It was mid-January. Things hadn’t been going well. I trudged in from the snow to a cold and empty house.
The weather had been mild; at least for mid-January. The fact that it wasn’t flat out, breath catchingly, pipe freezingly, “dear God can we make it through this blizzard”, arctic was my undoing. The fire, usually merry and well tended by Mrs. Curmudgeon (who has a magical way with woodstoves) had been serially neglected. An injury (which is non life threatening and shall remain unspecified) made it inadvisable for me to fill the wood box. The mighty tonnage I’d amassed last summer was within sight but unreachably distant. Cheap fuel oil kept the house habitable but a furnace does nothing for one’s soul.
The interior wood cache, normally a fully stocked monument to thrift and a well earned promise of current and future comfort, was a half hearted little pile. A dozen stovebolts that’d scarcely make the night. It was like that most of the winter. Always an inch from depletion. In fall I found it worrisome; “winter is coming”. In winter I was near panic. In my (paranoid) eyes we were regularly one power outage from total destruction.
I need a fire. Without fire, cold seeps into my bones and I feel old. I wind up lethargic and prone to ennui. I become a washed up has been who’s made poor choices in life. Was staking my free and independent claim on the God-damn tundra a massive failure? You’ve got to be tough to enjoy winter. I need a fire to feel tough.
Mrs. Curmudgeon, perhaps lacking the aches and pains caused by my manly stupidity and associated hard wear, isn’t so jittery. She can toss a blanket ’round her shoulders and bask in the infernal glow of her iSlab. I cannot. That’s an unexpected lesson of the last winter. I detest television but apparently it coaxed others toward the hearth. Who knew? The blessings of cheap fuel and wifi conspired against me.
I tossed the last few logs in the woodstove and lit a match. These would burn, then they would be gone. There would be no more until someone got more. I’d get yelled at if I did it myself. I coaxed forth a dull heat and shivered. It takes time to heat a cold stove.
My largely unfinished basement is what my mind makes of it. When the fire is ablaze it becomes more than the sum of its parts. It turns me into a proud Viking in his hearty longhouse. I put my feet up, sip whiskey, and enjoy the well earned fruits of my labors. Winter (when you’re warm and well fed) is a natural time of rest. The fire becomes a place to prepare for upcoming challenges. Tending the fire (or basking in it) allows the mind to revisit old sagas and take pleasure in what’s been accomplished. It takes but a few cords of wood to recover from one year and become ready, eager even, to attack the next with physical strength and mental optimism.
When the fire is not regularly kindled it’s the opposite. I’m a Russian peasant inching through the calendar. Dimly clock watching in a drafty apartment. Counting shifts at the Glorious Worker’s Tractor Factory; sipping watery turnip soup and waiting to die.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for cheap fuel oil. But warmth is not merely BTUs.
I slumped in front of the woodstove. It was finally radiating some heat. I’d have a few hour’s reprieve before the end of my fuel. Tomorrow it would all start again… with even less wood at the ready. I put my feet up and sighed. Might as well enjoy what I’d get.
Then, I noticed him. A big cat at the top of the stairs. It had eyes the size of marbles and a luxurious mane. Cats, like me, are attracted to warm fires. Was this the new cat I’d been warned of?
I checked my phone. There was the text I’d been sent earlier in the day: “We’ve got a new cat. Long story. Don’t scare him.”
The cat was full grown. In fact it was huge. It had the look of a cat thrust into new surroundings and unhappy about it. I can imagine. I have no idea what “long story” entailed but at the very least it meant upheaval from somewhere familiar, a car ride, and introduction to a strange house with a strange man muttering his sorrows to a metal box and a small pile of wood.
“C’mere.” I motioned to the cat.
Jesus the cat was big! It cautiously approached the stove, sniffing the gradually building heat. I watched him carefully. A cat that big; if it was a skilled predator, would be a force to be reckoned with. I expect cats to earn their keep by chasing mice. This cat, if it had the spirit to match it’s size, would take out deer and cache them in trees!
Alas it’s behavior didn’t match it’s mighty size. The cat’s fur was thick and gorgeous and untangled. Its ears untatterred. It approached me and the fire with caution but not the intelligent wariness of a predator. This cat was a lover and not a fighter. Just another mouth to feed. “Pansy.” I muttered.
Forgetting the cat and remembering my sore muscles I shifted in my chair. The cat, without pause, leapt into my lap. “Ooof, you’re a heavy one.” I complained.
The cat eyed me through half lidded eyes, stretched out languorously, and fell asleep.
There’s a second purpose to a cat, one I tend to forget. Warmth, of the kind that isn’t measured in BTUs is not limited to fire. I stroked the cat’s fur a few minutes. It purred.
I forgot my worries.
I fell fast asleep. Well played you silly pansy of a cat.