I was up in New England this week and happened upon a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier called “Snowbound- a Winter Idyl”. Sorry, it is the English Major in me coming out. This long winded narrative was surely in the spirit of all of the New England poets who described their time in the meat locker of New England winter weather.
” Shut in from all the world without,
We sat at clean winged hearth about
Content to let the North winds roar,
In baffled rage at pane and door.”
Doesn’t this just give you that fuzzy feeling for cold winter weather? The rodent here in Pa. says at least 6 more weeks and I am starting to see some cracks in the personalities of even those who like the winter. But take heart……….I have been encouraging all of you who might not like winter to try skiing, skating, sledding, snowshoeing, or anything else that gets you out of the house to enjoy what winter has to offer. At this time of year, I start to sound a little evangelistic in my zeal for winter and know that many folks cannot wait for a break in the weather even though spring skiing time is coming and that folks, is a blast not to be missed. But what simple pleasures can bring the spirit back to those of us who brave the cold and are desperately seeking warmth on those Alberta clipper days? A warm fire- that’s what.
I have always been a fan of the fireplace. A while back, I wrote a post called ” The Mountain TV” where I showed you my outdoor fireplace and all the fun associated with building a good, hot, wood fire. My first experience with fire in the winter came when I was a kid skating on North Park Lake here in Pa. before the rink was built. My folks always took us sledding and skating on the lake and one of the highlights for me was to warm myself by the fire that the county workers built and have some of their delicious hot chocolate. As they strategically moved the embers, I marveled at the red hot sparks that rose in the cold air and got my first smell of that fire that I would love to smell all of my life. Fast forward a few years and I find myself in front of a roaring fireplace at the old ski lodge at Seven Springs after a day of brutal cold weather skiing. I loved the big old green sofa in front of the fire where all of us kids used to plop ourselves down and carefully place our boots, gloves, and coats up against the fire to dry. It was amazing to see the steam coming off our boots and gloves and the occasional incineration of a ski jacket that just got too close. But the real experience of that ski lodge fireplace had nothing to do with warmth.
Sitting there one time, I was starting to fall asleep as one usually does when you come in from the cold to a warm inviting fire. All of a sudden I heard this thumping and whining in the back of the ski desk and in a few minutes I saw the General Manager, Jim McClure, come out with some beaten and bruised teenagers with a final word to them -” I ever catch you stealing signs or defacing property again, I will beat you within an inch of your life.” He let them go and then looked over to the apple cheeked fat kid on the couch( me) and said, ” Pat- let that be a lesson to anyone you know. You mess with anything up here, you will be dragged into the back room and given…..” Mountain Justice.” I always had a lot of respect for Jim McClure and still do to this day. Other lessons learned were to see my older ski heroes ( guys on the ski school) make their moves on unsuspecting co-eds in front of the fire. Man, those guys had more moves than a Swiss watch and with a little glug or other alcoholic fuel, some of those ladies with the big hair, stretch ski pants, and spiked heels were fair game. I never really got the spiked heels in the ski lodge but they did have the stretch pants. No matter to the old guard ski school guys. They were on the hunt. Rob Leonard used to say that the pillars out at the front gate to the resort should have fire shooting up out of them. In many ways, there was some devilish stuff going on and I witnessed it from the safety of the green couch and my fireplace in the lodge. I giggled a lot as a fat little skier.
Western trips soon came into play and I warmed myself by some collossal fires in the ski lodges. There is something relaxing and soothing to sit by a fire after skiing or doing anything athletic in the cold of the winter, but those ski lodges made it all the more inviting. A hot drink, some warming time with your boots off, made the cold not so brutal and that smell…….I love it to this day. You can go into many of the houses in the mountains and smell that burnt hardwood smell even when the fireplaces are not lit. I like to smell that in the summer and fall because it reminds me that winter is always coming and it is a little reminder when you get that itch to ski.
My backpacking days always included a fire no matter what the time of the year. I used to go a lot in the fall and as I told in my earlier post, I would take my cheater wax blocks and my Bernz-0-Matic torch in my backpack. You could burn anything with one of those torches and the cheater bricks. Even the state provided green wood was no match for that equipment. The state lean to’s have that aroma to them and it is always nice to light a fire after a day of hiking in the woods. Which brings me back to my own fireplace. We sit out there at night at look at the stars and solve the world’s problems with a beer or a glass of wine with the neighbors and friends. If you look at the picture again, you will see that it is very rustic and is a daily reminder of my life and times in the mountains. I call it a little bit of the Laurel Highlands right in my own back yard. It is buried now under some serious snow, but I have been known to light it up out there and clean off the Adirondack chairs even in the midst of the winter.
So, again, get out and enjoy the winter. And when you get cold, don’t give up. Just take a breather to get warm by a fireplace. Get used to that smell and enjoy what a good fire has to offer. Thanks for reading.