Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 8, 2013

Ed Hungness: Scooping the ashes

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — This fall we have been using our fireplace more than in years past. The season made its appearance and the first snow arrived before a final leaf raking. In the spring, when the daffodils poke their heads through the snow, the oak leaves will be waiting for me, right where Mother Nature left them.

Our fireplace has is a cast-iron grate on which to place logs. The grate allows the ashes from the burning logs to fall through it onto the floor of the fireplace. This promotes airflow and thus better combustion. Likewise it makes cleaning the fireplace somewhat easier.

With the abundance of firewood, we have not succumbed to the convenience of gas logs. Yes, gas logs are much cleaner. Yes, gas logs never need to be split and yes, when the thermometer dips to minus 10 degrees I wouldn’t need to put on my boots, coat, gloves, stocking cap and wool scarf just to haul in another load of wood from the garage.

So why don’t we pipe natural gas to the beloved fireplace? I could dispense with all of the chores and responsibilities associated with the wood burning beast. I could sell my chainsaw and ax in a garage sale next summer.

When a tree is taken down in the neighborhood, I wouldn’t volunteer to saw it up just to get free wood. No longer would I buy fatwood and butane lighters to start the fires. I could say goodbye to Carl, our chimney sweep, whose services would no longer be required to prevent chimney fires.

They will most likely carry me out of our cottage on a gurney before I give up the wood burning fireplace.

The reasoning behind such a hard-line position can be summed up in one word — memories. Recently, while cleaning the ashes from under the grate, I had one of those flashback moments. In my childhood home we had a wood burning fireplace.

In front of it laid a bear-skin rug, complete with head, teeth and eyes. When I was very young, my folks took a picture of me laying on that rug, in the buff.

I looked forward to Saturday evening meals with the rest of the family, sitting on the living room floor in front of the dancing flames of that brick fireplace. After supper we listened to our favorite radio shows on the RCA floor model radio with its dial glowing in the darkened corner. Because it had a shortwave band, sometimes we listened to the BBC in London and even heard Big Ben toll on the hour.

Every summer we vacationed in northern Wisconsin at a beautiful yet rustic log cabin that belonged to my aunt and uncle. Clear cool northern nights and chilly mornings combined with no centralized heat required a fire in their cobblestone fireplace each morning and evening.

When the sun went down, the kerosene lamps came out, the fireplace warmed the room, and the Canasta cards were dealt. Without electricity, radio and TV, we played cards, checkers and dominos nightly. There was much laughter and good times shared in front of that fireplace and a lifetime of memories created.

From those early memories came my dream of someday owning a cabin in the northern woods.

During our search for a retirement cottage, one requirement was that it included a fireplace.

After a forty year stint of continuous employment, I was ready to prop my feet upon the warm hearth, beside a real, honest-to-goodness, wood fire.

So do I mind hauling a five gallon bucket of ashes across the road to dump in the woods?

I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633