Firewood

26 01 2009

I have soot stains on my fingernails from cleaning out the wood stove last night.

My friend Leah, responding to my status update on Facebook, recently asked me, “Do you really heat your house with a wood stove?” The answer is yes, we do. There is no furnace here, just a wood-burning stove in a corner on the ground level. One of the beautiful things about a house like this, with thick, adobe walls built around an insulation barrier of compressed straw bales (hence the expression “straw bale house”) is that it holds temperature very well. A fire makes this place toasty in no time. And on days like today, when a chilly wind is howling outside, that’s a great thing.

We’ve gotten much more efficient at getting a fire started. Years ago, when we lived with my in-laws, I learned from my father-in-law (“Dad 2” when he comments on my blog) that a small propane torch proves invaluable for starting your fire. That tip has saved me a considerable amount of time and frustration.

There’s a funny thing, though. I get really particular about firewood. By that, I mean I won’t bring a piece of wood into the house until it’s ready to go into the fireplace. And I won’t touch the firewood unless I’m wearing gloves.

It’s all about the spiders, particularly the black widows. Every cautionary word about black widows warns that they like to nest in wood piles. We became more aware of this reality a few years ago when Liesl’s Uncle Eric was bitten by a black widow while he had his hand in his wood pile. He was okay, but I think it made life pretty miserable for a while. It’s not something I want to go through myself.

One night a week, we go over to watch TV at the cabin. It has a satellite cable hookup, so the television lives there. Unlike the Straw Bale House, the cabin does not hold heat very well at all. It, too, has a wood-burning stove. It’s kind of a strange stove, one that I find difficult to get into to build a fire. There is a wood pile inside the cabin in the corner by the stove. The one time that I tried to make a fire at the cabin, I picked up a piece of wood from the pile and turned it over. There was a massive black widow spider sitting right there. It was huge and fat, and when I squished it, it exploded everywhere like some horrible pimple.

It may have been coincidental timing, but it confirmed what I had started to think might be an irrational fear on my part. So even though there is a nice, handy box inside the Straw Bale House marked “Firewood,” only newspaper and fire-starting tools live in that box. I stack all of the wood against the Straw Bale House outside the front door. The overhang of the roof keeps the rain and snow away from the wood. It’s a bit of a hassle to go outside every time I need another piece of wood for the fire, but it gives me peace of mind that if some poisonous spider is lurking inside, it will go straight into the fire to perish and not into some indoor crevice to nest.

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9 responses

26 01 2009
Cilla

“It was huge and fat, and when I squished it, it exploded everywhere like some horrible pimple.”

I’m debating whether to share that line with my teen girls who have an irrational fear of spiders. The only semi-dangerous one we have around here are brown recluse spiders, and they’re nowhere near as dangerous as black widows. But if they see ANY spider, even a friendly, helpful, garden spider, they (in their terms) freak out. I think their reaction to your very vivid description could be a lot of fun. Evil, aren’t I?

27 01 2009
Rob in Gallup

Cilla, your comment cracked me up. It IS evil, but funny. The line you quoted might be some of my best material of the whole year.

26 01 2009
Emily Straw

Good call on not bringing the firewood inside. I may have to go through the firewood at my Grandpa’s cabin this year before taking people up there.

Cilla – just a warning that Brown recluse spiders are as poisonous if not more than black widows. My dad got bit by one and the only reason he didn’t get extremely sick was because he was already loaded up on penicillan from another accident or something like that. But it still made him pretty sick, so definitely avoid them.

26 01 2009
tigerlilysandybanks

You ought to have some, if you don’t already, emergency first-aid remedies on hand. I’ve read that their bites can be deadly especially for children and the elderly. That way, you can kind of treat it yourself until you can get to a hospital.

27 01 2009
Rob in Gallup

Kelly, good call.

26 01 2009
Mom2

Cilla – Do you live in Colorado because we most definitely have black widows. Rob – Eww is all I can say about that disgusting word picture you painted for us of squishing the spider!

26 01 2009
Cilla

No, I’m not in Colorado; I live in Illinois. I know the brown recluse can become infected, but from what I have experienced, penicillin takes care of it pretty quickly. The only problem I have with them is an allergy to penicillin! The other antibiotics aren’t as effective.

We’ve learned the type of habitat they like, as with the black widow and the wood piles, and use good caution when dealing with one. And I reserve the right to make them go splat, contrary to my husband’s preference to “catch and release”!

26 01 2009
Leah

Can I ask what you go over to the cabin to watch? 🙂

27 01 2009
Rob in Gallup

Leah, Thursday night is TV night for us. Our shows are The Office and E.R. (And 30 Rock by default, since it comes on between The Office and E.R.). When it’s Survivor season, we watch that, too, on the same night.

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