It’s the first day of Fall. Well, technically, the seasons click over in about 20 minutes. My brain clicks over too; the dozen year old sourdough starter has been revived, the word hearth is becoming part of my daily vernacular.
As a young person, with no binding ties and an idealist pure view of how my life was to be drawn, I decided that my life and career was to be devoted to the hearth. I spent years learning the skills, sensibilities and tasks of an early American woman.
Abiding to the time of the year was the hardest hurdle for me to overcome; it was never a concept I had to consider in my young suburban life. If I didn't take full advantage of the day, there was a large chance that I wouldn't be able to perform the appropriate tasks for the season. If I missed this season’s skills, another year would pass before I could finally check that task off of my list. Every skill built off of the last.
The only constant seemed to come from the hearth, and the fire was the driving force. The hearth provided light for all tasks and trades, safety by cooking the food that nourished the household, and heat to warm and dry. There is a reason the saying “the hearth is the heart of the home” exists: it is a living heartbeat on even the warmest days.
Every morning, a dutiful walk to the kitchen garden would determine and provide the day’s menu. The heavy door to the summer kitchen would open slowly, and it would swirl and push the settled air towards my face. The breeze was always heavy, carrying the weight of the smoke that the rafters held onto during the day. The hearth and the coals banked the day before, smell like spent hickory ash. This was my perfect moment of the day. It was so perfect that in the warm new Spring, it almost made me yearn for the cold Winter day, where the middle of my back aches from being so tense and chilled. It urged me to remember that feeling where my fingers slowly gain sensation after building a triumphant fire. It reminded me to keep the rhythm that our ancestors had to keep, the cycle that kept them alive: build, save, split, hunker, dream, start again.
I grew into a new family way, and moved us to a drafty farmhouse in a field. The wind was cutting in the winter; the space in the fenced area by the front door was unturned and ready. The old growth forest had layers of wood waiting to be split, stacked and used. I knew my path, and how I wanted to introduce this beautiful, hard and fruitful life to my girls. My sweet husband, who didn't have the same education or aspirations, begrudgingly gave in to my still idealist pure view of how I wanted to live this life.
We build a handsome fire, and it heats the room we are in. The smell of woodsmoke sticks to the blankets and our sweaters. The new kitchen garden provided well in the summer; our cupboards stocked with that perfect strawberry, preserved for the coldest night. The second garden is being planned and drawn, and the girls are excited about the idea of corn cobs that look like jewels.
Build, save, split, hunker, dream, and start again. The life cycle of my ancestors that kept them alive, keeps me alive today. This is why I am the way I am.
Click. Welcome new season, old friend.