At this time of year, governed by the decreasing hours of sunlight, we spend much more time indoors. Days are short and we begin to retreat inside from just after 4pm. The hens take themselves back into their coop from around that time and I pack away their food in the shed for the night. I do a final check on the sheep too and then begin to prepare the house for the evening and the night: topping up the log baskets, drawing the curtains and preparing dinner.
One thing that I notice at this time of year is how much the fires we light indoors are central to our home; in Winter, they seem to become its soul. Our three woodburners are our only source of heating and one of them also doubles as a stove so they keep us warm and give us heat for cooking, both essential practical ways to help us through the cold months. But there is also something else that the fires provide... something more subtle, less visible: an elusive yet profound sense of gathering and belonging, something ancient and transcendant that seems to run so deep within me, something ancestral not only connected to the heart and soul of this old Welsh farmhouse but also to our common humanity regardless of culture and background. Indeed, traditionally, the fireplace or the hearth was central to a home as a place for baking, cooking, warming up, drying laundry and wet clothes and shoes but also knitting, weaving, sewing, writing, reading, talking and storytelling. In his childhood, Peter had direct experience of the presence of fire in the home. Although I know that my parents and their own ancestors experienced the gatherings around the fireplace be it for cooking, heating or recreation, I never did, for as a child, we never had a fireplace in the house where I grew up. Yet, I do connect with a strong longing for a gather around the hearth and the fire, a primeval yearning that goes far beyond my own childhood memories.
I find the soft glow of the dancing flame to be calming and comforting, cleansing and transformative. In its presence, when I allow myself to deeply connect with it, I feel grounded and at peace with both myself and the world. I feel connected and I feel I belong. In our lives laden with technology - and the associated background noise that I often find intrusive and even crass – the crackling of the fire is soothing and restorative. A fire has a quality of presence that a telly – or worse our phones or laptops – cannot offer us. It invites a slowing down and focuses the attention in much the same way I recognise that a mindulfness practice does. It also creates a soft and gentle atmosphere for the kind of warm, relaxed human interactions that help us feel loved and glowing inside.
As the sun goes down each day and as we go through the darkest months of the year, I appreciate not only the important practical functions of the woodburners in the house but also the spiritual and emotional dimensions that a fire brings to my life as well as the sense of home it offers me. The home truly is where the hearth is.