The Wind Swept Bay


Merry meet all,

How to Start a Fire in a Wood Stove

Well what better place to inspire you to write than the wilds of the Cape Breton Highlands? You had better be bred of hardy Scottish stock. You have to be tough to survive here. I was invited to spend a week there. This is a diary of my vacation. 

The first night, I wore a wool cardigan and wool socks with my pjs to sleep. It’s been a while since it was that cold for me. I was posted to duty to bring in firewood. This is an art. You need dry, seasoned wood to burn. Punky wood, or damp wood, is no good to you. The drier the wood, the better. It burns longer and better. Even in April, you have to dress warm and wear mitts and a scarf. You also need something to not chop wood but to break the wood boughs into smaller pieces. You have to wear sneakers. So, donned in the proper apparel, I stepped out first thing in the am before the rain poured to collect wood. We mosied over to the- my Mom and I, to a pile of brush and proceeded to crack, break, and pile the logs of wood. There were supposed to be 130km/ hour winds. The wind had shook the house during the night. We were at the mercies of the elements.

My Mom cracked a lot of dead dried boughs and we piled them in the wood boxes. One was for the main pieces of smaller cracked wood boughs and the second was for the thick but about 20- 25 inches of wood. So, while the wood was aged and beautiful, our survival was more important. We brought in 2 loads, enough wood to last us a few days. There is no grocery store, gas station, and hospital out there. The restaurant is open seasonally, if at all. You have to drive to Cheticamp to get your goods.

My Mom pointed out a trick of turning a milk crate on its side. When she fills it, and stands the crate upright, the logs stand up straight.

So when you start a fire in the wood stove, you start with newspaper. Yes, you have to twist the newspaper, as you have heard,but some newspaper is coated with something, which makes it hard to burn. The newspaper that is uncoated burns better. You next add kindling. You take the time closing the flu. Fire needs oxygen to burn. Don’t burn lots of wood fast- let it burn over time. That is the important thing. Close the flu and the grate after an hour to let the embers heat and the fire to ‘catch’. The embers are vital. They have to be red and scorching hot. Agitate the embers with the poker once in a while. Let them get real going.

If there is a down draft, meaning the wind blows down on the house, that could ruin your efforts at heating the wood stove. This is also why you close the flu later. You want to be sure the fire is really going. As I type this, I have a cup of tea beside me and my laptop perched on my knees, and I am watching the fire burn in the wood stove. I added twigs, a used Kleenex, and a small log to the stove. Flames eat the log in the stove. It’s not a lot of flames-it’s enough.

The temperature of the wood stove is crucial too. The ideal temperature is 300 degrees. Above the stove, on the pipe, is a dial. It shows you the temperatures so you can safely burn wood. Too high, and your house is in danger. Too low, and there will be no fire at all. Now the flames are hungrier and devouring the small log, ensuring the house will be toasty warm against the harsh cold winds outside.

Even if the power went out, from the winds, we could cook on the wood stove, because we created so much heat. The larger log is reduced to near grey ash though it is still solid. The newer wood is harder and is burning good.


There was a lot of moose scat and some tracks where we collected the wood. They don’t discriminate where they do their business. The moose scat was right near where we collected the firewood.


It is an art. An art that few know about anymore or care to know. This is one way to honor your ancestors who depended on heat to survive, as we do, I am 450 kms from the city. When you come out here, you realize what you greedily take for granted. The modern conveniences are absent. How many people truly know how to survive? How to use a wood stove? How to collect wood? How to identify the ideal wood to burn? How to carry logs? – hint, carry the logs in the crook of your arm. How to identify moose scat? There is nothing wrong with learning all this. It may save your life someday. My sister was going to burn the brush but my Mom is instead using it for kindling and fire wood. Good decision or I would be shivering in my timbers!


Ah now for a hot cup of tea!! )O(

Blessed Be,

Lady Spiderwitch )O(

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