The house is cold, and I'm the first one up.
But I know what to do. Dave sat me down in front of our first woodstove, eighteen years ago, and showed me how to arrange the logs and start a blaze.
Then, when we built this new house and I begged him to release me from wood chips and smokey burps and trails of sawdust, he relented ... and showed me how to flip the switch on our new, fake stove.
When the price of propane chased my finger from that "on" switch and made me miss the mess and smell of a real fire, he relented again and fixed my mistake. He laid a moss and amber-flecked slate hearth, cut an arched entrance into the fireplace alcove, overlaid it with river rock, then fitted a brand new, massive, Country woodstove inside. And then he sat me down for a fire-starting refresher course.
This morning, I'm prepared. I kneel before the slate hearth and turn the silver-coiled handle. The glass door squeaks almost indiscernably as I swing it open. Inside, I find slim pickins. On the left, two fat, dead chunks lie cold and useless on a bed of gray. One lone, sliverish log lies on the right, with only the barest of orange glows flickering on the ash side. I've caught it just in time.
I pick up the scooper and begin the gathering. The long, barely alive piece offers no resistence. It's alarmingly light. The two chunks are heftier, but stone cold. I slide those next to the longer piece. Then I arrange two bone dry slabs of wood on either side, and one thin slab on top of it all. Inside the V-shaped cave, the makings of a fire await.
I search the hearth until I find a handful of dry wood slivers. These I prop against the small orange glow. All that's left is a breath. I lean in close, fill my lungs, and send a stream of hope into the dark space. One breath, two, and on the third, a burst of gold flame chases the last of the blackness. In just that fraction of a second, fire is reborn.
Soon, I'll be warm.
Oh, God--make us live again. Gather us close. Make our shoulders touch, and our arms, and our hearts. And then, when you've pulled us in tight and huddled us as one ... breathe.