In the 6th through 9th grades, I belonged to a scouting organization called Pioneer Girls. I still remember the theme song:
Pioneers who crossed the prairies
In the days of wagon trains
Pressing on with strength of purpose
Scaled the mountains, crossed the plains.
I used to think it funny that we were a flock of suburban girls in a club about pioneers, but didn’t realize at the time that I was really a pioneer woman in training. Pompton Plains, NJ, where I grew up, was at the edge of the ex-burbs back in the 1960’s and 70’s, and our suburban-sprawl-tract-home was situated right at the dividing line between civilization and country. We had curbs and streetlights and sewers on our street, but behind us were corn fields, horse farms and forests.
That rural-ish world was my playground. I would hike, bike, hide, and later kiss boys out there in the no-man’s-land of my town’s wilderness. We would have picnic lunches and campfires. I would dig up clay by a certain stream’s edge and try to make little pots with it. I had a copy of The Herbalist (yes, as a kid) and Storey’s Field Guide to Wild Plants in the basket of my blue Schwinn, and I would scour the woods and fields looking for, and learning to identify, medicinal and native perennials.
I was pocketing all this knowledge away so that I could become what I am today.
I never had any contact with wood stoves, however.
Fast forward to today. I had a big woodstove installed in the farm house. It heats the entire place – both floors – toasty warm, thanks to its large size and optional electric blower (worth every penny of the $250 extra it cost). The most appealing aspect of all this is that I can gather wood for free and turn it into heat. Of course, this year, being our first winter in the house, I purchased cord wood already seasoned and split. I am accumulating wood for next year’s use. Free. FREE!
I also quite like the ownership of the heat. When we were cold in the old house, we would flip a switch and the gas boiler would do all the work. PSE&G was responsible for my heat. Now it is my job. I make the heat happen. I own it. I am more self-sufficient today than I was before.
I’m finding that the seemingly useless information I tucked into my brain as a child is now quite beneficial. I can identify trees by their bark, their shape, their dormant leaf buds, and sometimes by the mosses and lichen and fungi that grow on their bark and roots. This is coming in very handy for identifying and choosing hardwoods for the stove.
The one thing I didn’t learn as a child was how to keep a wood stove lit. I learned the hard way one morning when we were most inconveniently out of fire starters and the mercury was hovering at -2F. Lighting a wood stove really is a pioneer skill – I remembered the Pioneer Girls song “pressing on with strength of purpose,” and got out the shovel, raked up the glowing embers hiding in the ashes, put in some kindling and puffed, puffed, puffed with the bellows until… TAA DAA!~~~~~ Fire.
I now start the stove that way every morning. Yes, it would be easier to stick in a kerosene-soaked fire starter and balled up newspaper and just light a match, but where is the challenge in that? It is much more fun to get on my Laura Ingalls Wilder persona and light it the pioneer way.