New Year off to an exciting start

Happy New Year! Sure, I know, we’re over halfway through the month, but it’s a little early to wish you a Happy Arbor Day, so New Year it is. It’s been a whirlwind month out here on the Funny Farm. I got Covid for Christmas, which threw off all of the grand plans I had made for ornament blowing, ice skating and Christmas Eve at church. I managed to recover enough to make the traditional Low German New Year cookies and start attempting to catch up on housework.

It felt pretty good to get strong enough to be able to resume my fire-keeping duties. It sounds strange, but stacking firewood, setting up the furnace, and carefully managing the fire is so satisfying. Right about now, most of you are envisioning a lovely stone fireplace, or maybe your mind’s eye sees a cheerful potbellied stove on a brick hearth. Well, cut it out. We don’t have anything that glamorous.

Lurking in our fieldstone basement is a wood-burning furnace that I’m pretty sure is an original part of the house. It’s an insulated chamber (for lack of a better word) about five feet tall, six feet long, and
three feet wide. The back end connects to the chimney, and there are several heat ducts sprouting from the top, as well as air feed ducts connected at the bottom. The whole thing rather looks like an industrial art interpretation of an octopus. There’s a huge eyebolt that controls the flue, and the damper door to the ash box is controlled by a makeshift chain and hook.

The door is the most fascinating feature. For as huge as the exterior seems, the door itself is roughly eighteen inches wide by two feet tall. It is apparently a “Torrid Zone 42RR Wood Furnace” built by the
Lennox Furnace Co. of Marshalltown, IA and Syracuse, NY. Behind it is the actual furnace chamber, with a concave slotted bottom that sits approximately a foot off the floor, in order to allow ash to fall
through. And yes, I get to shovel ash too. Actually inserting large logs through this aperture is definitely an acquired talent, involving a “crouch and sling” technique that takes years to perfect. As well insulated as the behemoth is, it does manage to emit some ambient heat into the stone-lined basement. That’s not always a good thing.

Last month, just before the plague hit, I was laying a fire like I always do (I prefer the lasagna method, for those of you fire builders out there). Crouching in front of the furnace, I reached over towards the rock ledge where my stick lighter resides, as usual. I saw movement, most definitely not as usual. In the small crevice just inches from my hand, a tiny forked tongue flickered in and out, in and out.

My years as a parent and my years out here on the farm have done wonders for controlling my jump reflexes. A younger, less experienced me would have screamed and stood straight up (fetching myself a
nasty blow on the head from the duct directly above) before leaping backward and most likely cursing.

Older seasoned me managed a quiet eek, and a rapid yet controlled diagonally upwards movement (crackling knees and all) before hollering “HEY DEAR! THERE’S A SNAKE DOWN HERE!”
Intrepid Hubby soon arrived on the scene and verified that we did indeed have a rat snake down there. Between the two of us, a fireplace poker, and a set of scissor tongs, we managed to extract all twelve fearsome inches of said reptile and relocate it outdoors into the capable paws of several barn cats. (Our indoor cat used to catch small snakes of varying types and play with them in the dining room until we could take them outside, an activity that was remarkably helpful in my efforts to control my jump reflex. The first few times, however, were incredibly noisy, and not on the cat’s nor the snake’s part.)

Since then, every single time I’m downstairs, I find myself scanning all of the nooks and crannies in the rocks, and double-checking the location of the tongs.

Of course, all’s well that ends well. In addition to all of that excitement, plus the kids’ sports and Darling Hubby’s coaching, I’ve managed to be involved in a car accident and fall down our (concrete) basement stairs. So far, the new year has been anything but boring. Still, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Always slow down and look twice. You never know what you’ll need to see. May your year be full of love and life, and hopefully free of unwanted snakes or accidents.

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