When of the many things I loved when I moved into my new house a couple months back, was the wood burning stove.

The former tenants told us they used it almost every day to heat up the house. That way, so they said, they hadn’t used the central heating much this winter.

This is Bavaria. Many homes here are still heated on oil, supplemented with wood burners. New systems are mostly pallets I think. I have my reservations on the approaches.

I was somewhat skeptical about using wood to heat the house. Not so much because of the heating potential. Sure, you could probably heat the place with continuous wood burning.

The question is, aside from some reduction in heating costs, what does this bring you?

Many people believe that it’s a good thing to burn wood. It’s ‘renewable’ energy. Sure, in a way this is true. A block of wood is certainly more rapidly renewable than a gallon of crude oil. However, it still takes quite some replanting to compensate continuous wood burning. What I personally don’t like so much is that a forest needs to be cut for wood. With that, without question you cut down habitat for something else, large or small. It just doesn’t feel right to burn it all day long to heat the house. The wood itself is renewable, but habitats are less easy to rebuild, and it’s quite plausible that with every round of renewal some important complexity gets lost.

Burning wood is also not particularly healthy. Here in Bavaria, whole villages near the Alps are in thick smoke when days are cold. Everyone burns wood. Walking around in it makes me think it’s unhealthy. I can’t imagine the conditions inside being much better. Indeed, wood burning releases a lot of nasty stuff that are all kinds of bad for you. It’s probably a good idea not to burn wood every day.

So I don’t.

But there’s something magical about fire. This afternoon it was cold and sunny. I opened the terrace doors in the living, and let the fresh air in. At the end of the afternoon, I decided to turn on the wood stove for the evening. Who doesn’t love a stove heated room to relax in for the evening?

Nothing soothes the brain like making fire. What is it about fire that’s so mesmerizing?

I absolutely love fire. Making it. Looking at it.

It’s medicine to my brain.

Full head? Make a fire.

Anxious? Light it up.

I stare at fire for a couple of hours, and my brain feels at ease.

My ridiculous theory is that fire always was associated with safety. A warm space, safe from cold. Safe from wild animals. After a day filled with fight or flight, the fire was a place to rest and digest. A place to wind down and tell stories. Therefore, I tell myself that my brain needs a fire every now and then to recharge. To return to baseline. To continue along this line of half-joking nonsense, I could even hypothesize that our current mental health pandemic is partly a result of the simple fact that most people stopped staring at fires.

And so, sometimes, I burn a couple of blocks of former habitat, and stare at the flames with gratitude, and feel calmer after.

It’s a beautiful thing, fire. I think I’ll stare at it some more. A good way to start the week, smoked with toxins, but with a clear mind.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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