The Construction- I know a guy from the Laurel Highlands named Teddy Hall who does most of the stone work in the mountains east of me. One day I find him building a stone pier in Ligonier,Pa and I ask him if he would be willing to come to my neck of the woods and build a 30 foot retaining wall and an outdoor fireplace. He consented and said that his brother lives near me and it would give him a good excuse to come to visit more often. The next thing I know is that a Somerset Coal truck shows up on my street with 16 tons of Laurel Mountain stone and dumps it in my yard. For a fleeting moment I think that I can wheelbarrow it around the back but then I see a guy with a Bobcat in my neighborhood and we strike a deal to move the stone. Fast forward, Teddy and his brothers show up in the spring and start on the french drain and the wall and then don’t show up for another 3 weeks. My wife starts to get concerned and I assure her that these guys are on mountain time. The cycle continues and they show up every 3 weeks or a month and “dry stack” the hand cut stones. Dry stacking as told by Teddy is putting a small amount of mortar between the stacked stones so that the mortar is not exposed. Thanksgiving comes around and Teddy assures me that he will finish the “firebox”. Sure enough he brings a crew and they finish the job and we are burning for the Thanksgiving holiday dinner.
The Seating- My friend Doug Cornelius who is also our insurance guy from Erie,Pa introduced me to his Amish friend from Western New York who makes steel roofing for the barns and houses in the area. Turns out he also makes Adirondack chairs and gliders from recycled milk cartons. Now these chairs are heavy and they are held together with recessed stainless steel hardware. They are bombproof and require no maintenance. When Janet and I go to pick up the chairs and pay the guy, he hauls out a wad of cash the size of a softball and peels off my change. I feel like a homeless person as I sheepishly accept my change from the guy who is obviously LOADED!!! You just never know about some people.
The Fuel- my friend JR Ellis with whom I work and ride mountain bikes, introduced me to his parents Judy and Rich. This wonderful couple have a great house and property in Mars,Pa. Yes- like the planet. Now Rich can do anything. He is like my dad was. The guy is a mechanical genius and can build anything and his wife Judy is an awesome cook and baker. They have a nice life out there on the planet Mars and when I come out with my chain saw, I always feel a little inadequate as I carefully cut up wood under the watchful eye of Rich who thinks that I am going to cut my fingers off. I am not quite as adept as he is with the power tools but I get by with my trusty Poulan 18 inch saw. Our deal is that I can take as much wood as I can stuff into my Jeep. I usually fill it to the brim and also stack it in the front seat. The springs will probabaly go some day on the Jeep but I will have my wood. In return, I cut the deadfall that Rich hauls out of the woods with his tractor and I use his nifty electric log splitter to split what I have cut. I then replace the wood that I take with the wood that I cut and all is hunky dorie. What a deal with the endless supply of wood and the endless friendship that I have developed with the Ellis family.
Why we like it?- Well when my wife Janet and I sit down either by ourselves or with neighbors and friends, we solve the world’s problems in front of a roaring fire. Really- we should invite Obama to fly down with his helicopter and park it in our front yard so that he can listen to some advice. I then can give him a cold Corona with a lime stuffed in the top or maybe he is a Long Trail Ale guy? I have both along with wine to fuel the conversation. The warmth of the fire sucks you in as you talk about kids, the world, what colleges will they be attending, moaning about the cost of things, and when all the conversation ceases and the neighbors and Janet all go to slumber land, I often sit by myself and look at the vast universe displayed by the stars in the heavens. We have a lot of people from India in my neighborhood who believe that smoke from a fire is like prayer rising heavenward. Native American cultures also believe this and as I sit in the quiet of the evenings and listen to the crackling of the fire and the crickets chirping, I think that my fireplace is a portal to what is to be. I get pensive around that fire and think about my parents and friends who are gone now. I am a believer and I know where they are and I know where I am going someday. But I look at those stars and wonder what is beyond our world. The fire in the night spawns thoughts and time alone to think. No cell phones, no I -pads or I-phones. Just the mountain tv to view in all of its red, glowing splendor. Whether you have a fireplace, a fire pit or whatever, try to use it as much as you can for as many nights as you can. It is great time with family and friends and the time goes all too quickly with conversation around the fire. Your kids will like it as they roast marshmallows or as they get older, join you for a beer. Whatever it takes to get that time alone is GOLD to families today. Go burn some wood and thanks for reading.