From Wildlands to Hearth

Humming in the guy wires that stabilize our wind turbine, the southwest gale today is coldly insidious. Slippers are a good thing! But the best of all is our cast iron woodstove, come to our little Uganik Bay home all the way from spending 40 years with Tollef’s grandparents in northern Minnesota. Traveling by truck, barge, fishing boat, 4-wheeler, then placed by hand, it finally arrived at its new home where, especially this time of year, it certainly is the heart and soul of our comfort.

Tollef designed this little house so that the cast iron Jotul sits at the very center to spread its warmth evenly. The insulated chimney pipe juts out of the roof, clearing the peak so that wind can’t backdraft down the stack. One feature that we use frequently is the flat top on the Jotul, for a pot of beans or a roast to slowly cook or for heating up water for dishes after a meal. Above the comforting pop and sizzle of the fire burning is a faint hum of the little fan that pushes heat away from the stove, running on the heat of the fire itself. Finally, after years of sitting on a sheet of metal as a fire break for hot ashes and whatnot, we poured a slab of hardened concrete counter top mix 2 inches thick to act as a heat sink and a place for firewood to be dropped and wet boots and clothes to cozy up and dry out. The multiple coats of lithium sealant keep the water pooling and not penetrating into the subfloor. It’s simple and effective if we don’t think too hard about all the handling and carrying we did of those sacks of heavy concrete.

Driftwood near Broken Point

Driftwood near Broken Point

Since the last ice age scraped off any trees from the Kodiak archipelago and for the most part they still haven’t repopulated our part of the island, the wood we feed it has also come to us from distant lands, floating in on the waves from forested places far off. As it does in so many ways, here the ocean once again sustains us.

The old adage about wood heating you twice may be multiplied in our situation, since we’ve got a few additional steps. Upon finding a good-looking aged log on a beach, wrapping a stout line around it and securing it with a nail, we run the line down to the water’s edge where it’s tied to the skiff and then jerked off the beach to float again, traveling via water one last time. Letting that log drift a while, we’ll repeat the process with more logs, depending on size, then raft them all together to tow behind us back to our home beach. It reminds Tollef of the pace of dog mushing, being transported across a vast scope of earth, slowly, and Adelia also finds it meditative, the drone of the motor, the movement of the skiff over waves, hours to think and sip tea. From there, it’s the usual. Tollef bucks up the logs with his chainsaw, stopping every log or so to re-sharpen the chain since the beach sand imbeds in the logs. At this point we have two options, legs or a machine, to carry the rounds the 100 feet up the hill to our house, where we split them into firewood and stack them in one of our two little woodsheds to (re)dry out.

tollef stacking wood.jpg

All these prosaic steps to heating our home are part of what we love about this life – that our day to day activities keep us tied to the physical world in body and mind. Adelia especially loves being able to clear her head on bookwork days by stepping outside to haul some rounds up the hill and split them, getting a little exercise while also literally keeping the home fires burning. And on that note – time to go chop wood. The rhythm of hoisting the splitting maul, the handle sliding through hands, the back muscles tightening, sending energy into the head of the maul, the satisfyingly thunk into the wood – it’s sort of like our gym, but with meaning.

Adelia Myrick