We’ve crested the peak of autumn’s colors and outside the landscape has submitted to the inevitability of winter. Leaves have faded and fallen. Winds blow in from the North and bring with them a biting chill. When the temperatures drop I’m plagued by an internal shiver with only three potential remedies, a cup of hot tea, a scalding bath, or standing so close to a roaring wood stove that I can smell the fibers of my clothes beginning to roast.
I would live next to a wood stove the whole winter through if I could. My love for its radiant heat is lasting and true. It does more than chase away the chill of winter, it soothes an evergreen yearning for security and stability that smolders somewhere below my solar plexus. My early childhood felt transitory, bouncing between my time between parents who themselves moved from house to house, from partner to partner. But what it gave me was the fortitude to face the unknown, so when I tired of my small town and the limited opportunities for a girl who liked to study and wanted to learn, I fledged early, taking off for boarding school at fourteen. From there I crossed the country to California for college, and then went south to live in Central America. And now here I am in Japan. I’ve pushed myself towards new frontiers most of my life, placed myself in uncomfortable positions where I told myself I would learn and grow and have excellent experiences. And I have, but always accompanied by a certain disquiet. And so I seek comfort in the physical, in the warmth of a wood stove that mitigates a gnawing unease.
The days are short and cold settles as swiftly as the sun sets. There’s a turning in these days, a settling into the darkness of winter. I yearn to retreat inside at the first sign of dusk falling and remain within protective walls until daybreak. I lay a fire and turn my thoughts toward dinner. The physicality of the act is grounding, a clear break from the digital hyper-connectivity of the day, from the sedentary hours in front of a glowing screen that my work requires. The fire in the stove is soothing and the dance of orange flames anchors and enlivens our little home. From time to time, we’ll let a log burn down and roast round taro roots in the coals. We unwrap them at the table piping hot and break them in half with chopsticks, watching the steam rise. The soft flesh yields easily and we eat them, skins and all, much like a baked potato. They are smooth and creamy, naturally imbued with the same velvety viscosity that butter lends to mashed potatoes. With drizzle of good olive oil and a drop of soy or a pinch of salt, they sit rich in the belly, warm and comforting.