Since we've been living in a rental house where one of the main sources of heat is a wood stove (and we get unlimited free wood from our landlord), I've suddenly realized why fire is a symbol for passion or love in so many cultures. There's a learning curve with these old-fashioned methods of heating, and as Ari and I have become versed in the art of keeping a fire going, I've found myself mulling over the humorous similarities between a fire and a human relationship of the romantic kind.
Some people have the touch; some don't. Some say there's a method to building a fire. Others are just naturals. Our landlord can casually toss kindling and a log or two in the wood stove and have it roaring in no time. Ari and I, on the other hand, don't have that kind of charisma. We've had to work at it, finally chancing upon a method that was consistently successful.
You can't force it. Even now that we have a general formula for building a fire, sometimes the fire just isn't in the mood. In that case, we get desperate. We must resort to begging. We're willing to try anything--adding the wood in a different order, using different kindling, anything it wants.
Obsessing over it won't accomplish anything except driving you crazy. Once you've lit your kindling, all you can do is put the cover on the stove and wait. It's best to just focus on something else entirely. Sure, you can hover expectantly over the vents, looking for that tantalizing flicker of light inside, but that doesn't matter to the fire, and you just look desperate. It's better to play aloof. Go off and do something else, and check on it in a few minutes. If it didn't light, shrug it off and try again.
It's seductive and addictive in a cruel psychological way. Sometimes when your fire is refusing to light, you only want to light it that much more. You may pour up to an hour of your time into it. When it's finally going, that fire is your world. You want to be near it, to constantly peek and make sure it's still there. This unhealthy attachment is all you can think about. Every time you approach it, you think, "This time will be different. I'll get it this time," only to fall into the same trap.
Don't get too cocky. After a while, you might think you and your fire have a good thing going. You might be tempted to fall into a routine, or you might think you can get away with more time apart. However, just because you and your fire have had a good day--you've been stoking it regularly, and it's always responded with a nice flame--doesn't mean you can turn your back on it all evening. Your fire may seem happy one minute, but if you get immersed in a book or distracted on the Internet, you might suddenly find it's burned out on you completely. Fires are notoriously stubborn and moody when you attempt to return them from this state.
You may be tempted to cheat. One night, when the fire was being particularly stubborn, Ari and I decided it was time to resort to the propane heater outside our bedroom. Whereas the fire required care and attention, the propane heater was, well, rather slutty. With just the push of a button, we had all the heat we needed for the night. The next day, it was tempting to just crank up that propane heater and not worry about building a fire. However, we reminded ourselves that we'll eventually have to buy more propane, but wood will always be there for us. So we returned to our faithful wood stove and endeavored, once again, to give the fire the attention it deserved.
Even though you have your ups and downs, there are still moments when you find it rewarding. When the wind is howling outside, snow is falling, icicles are forming, and the temperature is dropping steadily, you are unbelievably proud of your fire. You can't help but curl up in your favorite arm chair with a cup of hot tea and think, "This is so worth it." And the whole cycle begins again.