What is the coziest of scenes on a winter’s day – a warm fire. It does more than provide heat.
One of the great joys of the winter season is a fire. A campfire, a bonfire, a log burning fire, a gas fire, it really does not matter, a fire is a comfort and, in its celebratory form, a high point of winter. Though, knowing the difference between these human-made forms of fire is instructive and can add to your enjoyment and delight.
A campfire necessarily means being in the elements and seeking protection from them. It involves some kind of cooking or warming of food, drink or both. It is the fire of nourishment. A bonfire usually pertains to some festivities or ritual and because the fire is fuelled by wood piled high, it goes ablaze quickly. It is the fire of revelry and spectacle. An indoor log burning fireplace is no longer the sole means of keeping a space heated. Nor is it, as in olden times, a vestigial kitchen stove. Today, it is the fire of tradition, and may, in still moments, become the fire of hypnosis. A gas fireplace or any of the newfangled technologies are safer, more convenient options. They are the fire of expediency and entertainment, to show good taste in modern living.
Whereas the first three forms of fire appeal to all the senses, a gas fire and all modern fireplaces that replace logs with pipes or lasers or trickery do not. Part of the thrill of a real fire, and by that I mean one that engages all the senses is hearing the crackle, pop and jostle of the logs that, every so often, make you start. Then, there is the hypnotic pleasure of watching the flames dance and dart and hide and play. With a real fire the movements are never the same – you could watch for hours and never predict where they’ll go next.
A gas fire will always burn the same way – staid consistency is its very nature. That is not to say that a gas fire is inferior – only different. It needs no stoking, no tending, less cleaning, less work, and for that it is a boon. It will never, however, be as alive as its more natural counterparts. A gas fire has been tamed and proscribed, been given confines and parameters, it obeys the rules of humans.
Fire is more than utility. A real fire is alive – it is a presence. It serves an important imaginative, psychological function. Part of the reason that a fire in winter is welcome has nothing to do with warmth. Sometimes, the gentle yellow-orange flame and the intimate light it produces is what you seek and stare into so that thoughts are set ablaze or dissipate.
In those moments it is nice to have a glass of wine, better yet port, a platter full of exotic cheese and a good book. For those not inclined to drink, a steaming cup of hot cocoa sprinkled generously with cinnamon upon which mini marshmallows prance and sway would be in order, accompanied, of course, by cookies. Or, best of all, to have nothing at all, no food, no entertainment, only thoughts that need transforming, problems that require solving, energy in need of calming.
To be before that gentle light, that beacon, is restorative. It does more than make coldness slowly thaw to warmth. Indeed, to be before that fire reminds us of a winter promise repeated for the ages that even in this darkest hour, here again and eternally comes the return of light. CSL
This original editors letter article first appeared in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.