I almost ran out of wood last year. In the middle of winter I had to scramble and find some good, dry wood, just about as easy as finding ripe peaches at that time of year. I sometimes think that the best way to save on heat might be to just go to Florida.
I have an aunt who lives on the Atlantic side. She sends me photos of her balcony overlooking the turquoise water and clippings on cheap airfares. It sounds nice.
My mother hated winter and loved Florida, so every year during the late 1950s and early 1960s, we’d pack up the Ford station wagon, strap our bikes to the roof, and drive down there. The bitter cold receded slowly, replaced by the South’s humid heat, which blew in through our rolled-down windows. The three-day journey took us past cotton fields, sharecroppers’ shacks, and Burma-Shave signs. The heavy fragrance of orange blossoms signaled that we were almost there. Our destination was Delray Beach, where we had an apartment on the second floor of an old wooden building, surrounded by coconut trees and a rugged kind of grass that was hard on tender bare feet. The apartment was small, with a big screened porch. My sister and I slept on the porch, as it was cooler there and also interesting. The lady next door played cards with her friends till all hours, and we enjoyed watching them trade cards and refill their glasses as the night wore on. Their talk and laughter, along with the stirring of the fronds against the screens, lulled us to sleep.
We could ride our bikes to the beach–a great expanse of white sand edged by the unbelievably clear ocean. We lay on bright beach towels in our new bathing suits, dove into gently curling waves, and walked the length of the strand to find shells and other treasures. At night we’d find little restaurants that weren’t too expensive, and on rainy days we strolled the village and poked around in the shops. Occasionally, on particularly warm and indolent nights, we set forth for Palm Beach to see the mansions there, imagining the opulent lives within. If I could go back to that time and have my father drive us all down to that same place in my mind’s eye, I’d leave my woodstove in a minute for the pleasure that journey might bring.
But, alas, such a place no longer exists. And I’ve become joined with winter. Like a night watchman, I no longer trust that winter can pass safely without my vigilance. Moose tracks crossing the field, the embracing warmth of the stove as I come in from the cold, the way white outlines every board on the barn after a night of driving snow, the steady song of the wind–these are the treasures I guard. If I were to let the stoves go cold and abandon my post by the window, I’d feel I’d turned my back on a friend in a time of need. Resolute, I stay on. But this year, I’ve added an extra cord to the pile.
Edie Clark’s newest book, Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers, is available at: edieclark.com