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Making Fire (& Running)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back home, wood stoves and fireplaces are adornment– something extra, something cozy, and I’d say, something elite.  Here, fire is basic.  Every house has at least one wood stove, sometimes several if the house spans more than two or three rooms.  Most people cook on the wood stove, though fancier houses also have a gas stove.  At school, the asistentes a la educación (euphemism for janitors) start a fire in each classroom before the students arrive.

The thing is, hacer fuego es todo un tema-– making fire is a whole issue.  Let’s start with leña, firewood.  Where do you buy your firewood?  Who has the best price (per cubic meter)?  Who will sell you leña seca (dry) or leña mojada (wet)?  Where do you keep the wood– do you have a big enough leñera (woodshed), do you have a giant covered stash outside like the hospital, or do you have to buy more in July when it’s hard to find dry wood?  What about chopping– most leña comes in big logs, so you have to chop it into smaller pieces to start a fire.  That’s the next topic, starting the fire– do you use cardboard, paper, gasoline?  Recently a teacher was talking about how a parent hadn’t read a flyer sent home with the student, and she said, “They just think, paper?  We’ll throw it in the fire!”  I smiled because, here, that’s not an expression– it’s actually true.

In a way, I’m surprised I haven’t been more unhappy here given how often I’ve been cold.  That sounds dramatic, but it’s kind of true.  If I have a big fire at night, it’s dead in the morning, meaning I dress and eat oatmeal in the 40 or 50 degree house.  If I come home from school on a day when no one has been in the office, I have to build a fire, and wait a good hour until the house is really warm.  My fire-building skills are still “emerging”, meaning if I can, I’d rather put on another fleece than battle with the kindling and matches, but I realize that won’t be an option once it gets really cold.  But to balance the complaining, let’s remember how beautiful Palena is.  Every time I go for a run, I

a) I am happy because I am really warm.

b) I remember how absolutely stunning this place is.  Really– whether I had a frustrating or phenomenal day of classes, I see rivers, endless green, and snow on the tippity top of mountains.

c) I feel strong, healthy, alive, purposeful, no matter what happened earlier in the day.

d) I get a bonus upper-body workout waving to people, especially kids– high school boys who shout, “Hello Miss!” and laugh, as I calmly wave back, unfazed, and one second grade boy who consistently runs out of his house to call, “Hola, Tía!” as I run by.

But back to fire: Wood stoves strike me as anachronistic in a town that is quite modern in many ways.  I co-teach high school English classes in a room with a wood stove and an interactive white board.  Yesterday I saw a man leading an ox-drawn cart full of firewood, and yet Palena (population 1500) has a hospital with three doctors, a psychologist and a nutritionist.  The mail comes once a week and is not delivered, and yet all of the teachers check their facebook account on their laptops in the break room.  Life here seems to pass in the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries at the same time.

So far, I really haven’t been that cold, but what gets me is the idea that it’s going to get colder.  A whole lot colder.  All but a few days of the last two weeks could be classified as “raining” or “rainy”, and I usually don’t take off my jacket (over a sweater) until noon– while the classrooms can get toasty, the hallways are completely unheated.  A few hours this month I’ve been in just a t-shirt, but I am sleeping in long-underwear+sweatpants, two shirts, and five blankets every night.  Yet my sleep is toasty delicious, even if my semi-functional tin roof (soon to be repaired!) makes the falling apples sound like watermelons and the wind like a car crash.  But it’s only the beginning of fall, so I guess I’d better get good at making fire.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ned permalink
    Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:24 pm

    Meg:

    Fire starting can be frustrating. Here’s a trick you can try. Find a nice tall can or large jar. Split some leña seca into 1×1″ or 1×2″ squares about as long as your can is tall. put the seca sticks into the can and fill with kerosene. Let them soak (a day) and when you build a fire use just one or two on top of your starter(paper?)and under some larger logs. this will get things going in a reliable hurry. Keep your can full and have a supply on hand. Kerosene should be available locally i would think – keep it safe away from the fire. Great blog posts! have fun!
    ned.

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