A journalist observes life in the far north.
The wood stove is perched atop a piece of plywood over the stairwell. Behind it, hanging from the plywood to the stairs, is an old maroon sheet. It’s meant to keep out the cold air but mostly it’s a nuisance, especially when I’m carrying things up the stairs, and I’ve almost tripped because of that damn sheet.
Often I flip the sheet onto the plywood, and I did that this morning so that I could stock some wood in the plastic bins upstairs.
A few hours later, after my yoga class, I was sitting in the sauna at the gym and looking at the hot rocks when I remembered something. I had left the maroon sheet on the plywood beside the wood stove and most likely touching the wood stove, which I had fed before I left the house.
I tried to relax. It’s probably fine, I told myself. I had shut the air valves so the wood would burn very slowly.
Still, it gnawed at me.
I raced out of the sauna and called my neighbor, Sarah.
Hey, are you home?
She said she was on her way home, and I launched into my story about the wood stove, asking her to drop by the house and move the maroon sheet.
But I’m on my way home from Wasilla, she said.
I called Alec, who was at work and didn’t know what I should do.
It’s probably OK, he said.
He reminded me that we have fire insurance, to which I replied: Do we have the kind of fire insurance that pays when you burn down your own house?
I had no other choice. If I didn’t go home, I’d think about the sheet beginning to smolder, catching the plywood on fire and then the wooden banister. The fire would spread to the floor, the walls, the furniture. I’d lose the diamond ring my mom left me when she died. And my laptop. The chickens living in the garage would surely die.
I drove to the hockey arena where I was to meet friends for some stair walking and announced my predicament.
Go save your house, my friend Robinson said.
I caught myself driving 60 mph on an icy road, and when I came around the bend and saw the house was in one piece, I was relieved and maybe a little chagrined.
I looked inside the stove and the bottoms of the logs glowed. The tops were charred black. The stove was almost cool to the touch. The sheet was a little warm, probably from the blazing sun.