It is well known in Montana that wood will keep you warm twice.
Once when you cut and stack it and again when you burn it. Fire is a force that is hard to start and hard to extinguish. You can only pretend to control fire, but you should endeavor to understand it. You may try to reckon with it, negotiate your use versus its hunger, knowing it can refuse to play or turn greedy at any time.
I was staying at a friends cabin in the Pioneer Mountains of Montana. The cabin had been vacant a good week and the temperature up at 7200 feet had been well below zero.
When I arrived the place was cold, dark and still.
I dropped my bags and turned on the lights. The immense iron stove sat waiting in the corner vacant, and hungry. There was no dry wood waiting inside. I left my coat on and walked out to the long line of logs stacked by the fence. I looked for dry pieces, under the layer of snow, and gathered them into my arms, carrying as many as I could manage in one trip. I opened the stove and arranged the wood, leaving gaps for the air to flow around the logs. I took the smallest piece and with the axe sliced off long, thin slivers into a pile, appetizers for the flames. I placed them under the larger cuts of timber and reached for some paper in the bin next to the stove.
I found none.
I looked around. Last week's mail was no where to be seen, and my pile of old bills and envelopes had already met its fate as fire starter. I was out of paper luck. I took out the lighter and tried igniting the little splinters of wood, but they were too cold, too damp, too tired to light.
I took another tour of the cabin, looking for paper. There were no newspapers magazines or Amazon boxes to be found. I opened the frig, and looked around. Not much there, a bag of spinach, some elk meat, 14 cans of beer, some hot sauce and a dozen eggs.
A dozen eggs in a paper carton.
That could work, I thought.
I pulled the eggs and put them in a large bowl and stuck them back in the frig.
Now I had an empty egg carton.
I ripped it into several pieces, and placed it under the logs. I rearranged the splintered wood and lit the carton. The carton didn’t flame up, its damp, dense nature was ever resistant. I blew softly on the fragile flame, feeding the fire with gentle kisses, and adding a few hasty prayers. Slowly the fire spread to the first tiny sticks of my chopped tinder. A few more breaths, a few more whispered prayers and the light grew brighter. Little wisps of smoke curled around the logs.
Steam rose from the bark, and as it dried, it caught fire too.
I watched it vigilantly, knowing how easily it could just quit. There were no more egg cartons. I continued to poke and blow, and encourage the fire to grow. Soon, the fire was warming the room. I felt victorious! And relieved. I just couldn’t not be able to do this. I was a city girl with a lot to prove!
I recounted my triumphant tale to my friend, the owner of the cabin. He was vastly amused! Laughing, he said, “oh yeah, I forgot to tell ya, I keep a old plastic coke bottle filled with diesel fuel out on the porch- just squeeze that on the fire and you’ll have it going in no time....”