Sitting near Tasha’s Fireplace
The thermometer at my barn registered two degrees this morning, a cold temperature for farm, located where the breath of Lake Michigan warms our air. Sunshine shimmers on the paths cut through the many inches of snow that fell last week. Because most of my visits to Tasha took place before my family headed into maple sugaring season, I associate frigid temperatures and mountains of snow with Vermont.
Frosty lace patterns spread across Tasha’s windows, especially in those upstairs bedrooms farther removed from the cook stove and fireplace. Out of doors, each step squeaked on the icy snow when I walked Tasha’s driveway so that I could fetch her mail. Sometimes a fine mist of snow blurred the edges of the wood, limiting the view, but most days the sunshine glittered on the snowy caps decorating tree limbs, or on the undulating, snow-covered forest floor. A red scarf swathed my face in order to filter some of the cold before the air flowed to my lungs. While the trek resulted in numb toes, the joy of Tasha’s fireplace waited for me.
If a constant fire hadn’t been burning in the Rumford fireplace, a man could have stepped inside it and looked up through the brick chimney. First thing in the morning, Tasha would stir the embers, add a few birch bark logs that quickly flamed, and then add oak or other hardwood that would burn for hours. When I emerged from the canopy bed, leaving behind a nest of the featherbed and quilts, I slipped into my coat, hauled in armloads of wood, and deposit them on the hearth. Throughout the day, either Tasha or I would poke at the fire, add another log, and revel in the heat. And like a final blessing, each night Tasha banked the fire so that it could sleep through the night and be revived at sunrise.
Once while watching sparks dance up the back of the fireplace, Tasha brought up the folklore connected with the sight. She and her brother had called the sparks British soldiers because they reminded them of the Redcoats. No such tradition lingered from my childhood, only the memories of flushed cheeks and wood smoke clinging to my hair.
When the discussion traveled on to how others loved her fire, Tasha confided, ““Often when I invite someone for tea, the fire mesmerizes them, their faces grow dreamy, and they are hesitant to depart. Usually, I can shoo them away by announcing it is time to milk the goats and attend to the evening chores.”
Thankfully, I was privileged to draw my chair closer to Tasha’s fire, to listen to her stories, learn from her wisdom, and bask in the warmth of her friendship.