Sunday, February 28, 2010

Late Winter Bustle and Bluster

For much of the winter, the winds here have been fierce and seemingly ever-present. When it's really raging, the wind makes a nearly constant droning sound as it courses through the tops of the trees behind the house. For days that sound reminded me of something I couldn't quite put my finger on--something metal and unnatural. Then it hit me--it's like that hollow sound made a marble circling the bottom of a cylinder or metal garbage can. It's an unnerving sound, and yet exciting in that shivery way, too. It makes me want to bustle around the house, making things cozy. My grandmother's old expression forms in my head: "Time to get cracking."

I do bustle. I've noticed that my days have a definite seasonal rhythm, and it's pleasantly reassuring, especially against the backdrop of the wind. Late winter brings a routine that lacks the magic of Christmas preparation, but taps into a deep need for comfort and--there's that word again--cozy. The very first things I do most mornings reflect this. Take a peek in my 7 am kitchen, and you'll see me turning up the heat, setting the kettle on the stove, and, many mornings, starting a fire in the belly of the kitchen woodstove.

I admit I love the pioneer mama feeling I get from doing these things around the kitchen. Is it ridiculous to admit I love bringing in the wood for the stove? Oh yes. But I know I love it only because it's optional. One morning last week, as I was lugging in a bunch of logs, I was nearly giddy with the prospect of feeding the fire. I put the wood into the stack by the stove and paused to admire my industry, stopping just short of hooking my thumbs into my pretend overall straps and rocking back on my heels with a self-satisfied, "Yesirree."

If you met me when I was younger, you would never have guessed that I would be so eager to create an over-folksified version of myself. That Laura-Ingalls appeal has only really surfaced in my adult life. Baking bread, making laundry soap(?!), heating the house with a woodstove--these are all a bit over the top Laura-ish, and doing any of them gives me the same sense of "yay-me!" industriousness. And I'll be the first to tell you that it's a farce. Laura Ingalls, I love you, but I can only go so far. I'm too much a fan of electricity and water and hygiene to do much beyond feign self-sufficiency.

I've been thinking about this lately because some of our mornings are so damn stressful. With the lunches that need to be made, breakfasts burning on the stove, a three-year-old who runs away from me half-dressed when we are pushing to get out the door, and an eight-year-old who always finds "one last thing" that has to be done before the bus comes, tell me this: Just where do I get off thinking that I have time to fiddle with the woodstove to get cozy? At first blush, it really seems that I'm probably adding to my own stress.

But honestly, I think I get such satisfaction from things like this specifically because I do them for no other reason than my own free will. Making a fire when you have a perfectly good heating system is fun simply because it's optional. It's an extra that I do just because I feel like it, and because looking at that little fire chugging along is reassuring. The wood fire is there because I willed it to be. Clearly, it's a sharp contrast to the way my mornings run otherwise, and it's a needed difference that actually reduces my stress. The bulk of time between waking and getting Ada off to school is mostly about doing things not because I feel like it, but because they just need to be done. Starting a day with lighting the stove is like putting a capital at the start of a declarative sentence: I still exist as something outside of the routine; I retain my free will.

I've noticed also that there is a gentleness to the routine of bustling about a woodfire, or kneading bread, it's gentle in the way that smearing cheese on bread and zipping lunchboxes is not. When I'm going through the motions with the fire or the kettle or the flour and dough, I get the sense that I'm tapping into something with deep, primitive roots. I feel connected to a long line of women who nurtured and prodded, and brought forth the morning with the crack of a spark in the stove. The morning routine is lonely sometimes, and sometimes its repetition makes me feel cagey. But there are sisters and mothers, and aunties and grandmothers behind me, tending the homefires as the shadows recede.

What routines do you embrace, or flee? What small actions do you take in the day to connect with something bigger than yourself?

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