Winter comes and a body has a need for fires. Vicious cracking consuming blazing famished fires. Roaring fires. The kind that makes a sore throat of the chimney and spits out embers, filling the room with choking smoke.
It's been one of the warmest most benign Octobers I've known. I got the wood in the late Spring and had it stacked in the wood loft in May. It's been up there waiting, drying and now the time of immolation is upon us.
I went up to the loft a couple of weeks ago to put away the garden hose and was surprised to hear a weird clicking. It was like it was raining in, but as with the whole of October it was a mellow day of blue skies, without a cloud to be seen. I realised that it was woodworm. It was coming from all over.
At first I panicked. Like most people raised in the countryside, I have a hearty dislike of nature and living things in general. I felt like piling the lot in the garden and sending up two months worth of firewood in one massive conflagration, but that wouldn't do and wiser counsels prevailed. A friend told me it was normal. Not to worry. Fire would cure all.
When I was a child, we had a coal fire and I remember the coal man coming to the house once a fortnight. We changed over to wood fires and with that came a whole new set of jobs. There was the reverse Jenga of the wood pile and hearty fun of splitting logs with the axe. In The Magnificent Seven, Charles Bronson is discovered chopping wood in a yard. 'Are you broke?' Yul Bryner asks. 'Nah, I'm doing this because I'm an eccentric millionaire,' he says.
When I came to Vas, Graziano took me to the forest to get wood. We set off early parked the car and walked up steep paths to the piece of land where they had logging rights. The chainsaws were unsheathed, revved and a tree was soon falling. Mauro and Graziano leapt about using machetes and chainsaws to lop off branches and saw through the trunk. Sawdust, smoke and resin. About eight they stopped for refreshment, but Graziano waved the two litre bottle of red wine away. 'Chainsaws are dangerous,' he said. So we stuck to beer.
The tree reduced to a pile logs, it was then time to take it down the mountain. Different spots had different methods. One had a series of chutes lubricated by soapy water. Another you'd bundle the wood and tie it to a wire and send it hundreds of metres down the hillside to the waiting tractor and trailer. The trailer filled and the wood delivered, it would remain to chop and saw it further and then stow it in the woodshed, cover it with tarpaulin and wait for the winter and the intense satisfaction of seeing all that work, all that labour, go up in smoke.
Fires are the solace of the winter. To come home and find a welcoming fire warms the heart as much as the body. It is a household god. To sit reading a book - Edgar Allen Poe or Dickens ideally - listening to the fire muttering away, occasionally demand a poke or some more food is - along with frosty walks in the mountains - winter is basically for. Its sound is like the voice of a loved one in the next room. You can't make out the meaning but you're glad that it's there. It is the only furniture in the house made of elemental magic. You might say it's just rapid exothermic oxidation via combustion and so it is. It is still magic.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.