One of the amazing, fabulous, so-cool-I-can’t-believe-it aspects of our new apartment is a real, actual, honest to goodness wood burning fireplace.

No pellets. No gas. No “oh it’s just for show we don’t use it.”

A real fireplace! With fire! From a log!

Yowza! [ insert cavewoman grunt here ]

Fire, good. Warm. Unh-huh.

However, since there are several units in my building, and who knows what sort of yahoolios I have for neighbors, today I called my insurance agent and double checked that I’m super duper double covered for such things as fire. And you know…burning.

Turns out that I am covered, and that’s good. I was raised with a healthy respect for fire. When my mom was just a little girl, her brother was using a burn barrel (or maybe burning leaves, I can’t remember) and he accidentally set several large farm fields on fire. My mom can vividly recall the huge flames and ever since she’s kept a healthy distance from any sort of fire.

So of course, my dad used to load up our 1970’s burnt orange free standing fireplace with lots of sappy New Mexico piñon logs. Then he’s say “what?” when mom mentioned that maybe that was a little too much fire for such a small fireplace.

I mean, as a kid I learned how to make a darn good campfire and over the years I’ve always really enjoyed cooking over fire (both bbq and camping), however, in my adult life, I have never lived anywhere that had a fireplace. Most apartments don’t offer this feature because the property owners don’t want to assume the risk.

Last night, I pondered while looking at this particular fire:

The first fire in our new place!!

For as much progress as we have seen in the world including technology, medicine, engineering, etc…meaning, of all the amazing tools that we, as humans, have at our fingertips, it’s still the tool of the caveman that can wipe the whole thing out.

One flickering flame. One spark from a burning fire is a lifechanger.

And so today, when my insurance agent asked me the all important question “what is the distance to the nearest Fire Station” and I answered “less than a mile,” at I first felt worry over having to even discuss the probability of tragedy. Then I felt thankful that the fire station is so close. Then I felt doubly thankful for all the people who work at that fire station and are willing, as a normal part of their job, to come and save me, and The Good Man and, yes, even The Feline, from a possible terrible situation.

Being a human is full of risks. Even if I choose not to use my fireplace, I can’t control all the others in my building. So yeah, I’m going to use that fireplace and I’m going to stand in front of it and warm my rear end. I’m also going to be very careful and very respectful.

And very grateful.

Regarding the fire, the Feline says, “where you been all my life?”.

Yes, that’s a box of Duraflame. Real logs are on the way.

Except where noted, photos Copyright 2012, by Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the far right column of this page. Photos taken with an iPhone4s and the Camera+ app.

Photo at the link to the freestanding orange fireplace is from That is not a photo of my family’s home.

An Open Letter to an Ugly Fire

Dear WildFire –

Hey, hey. Slow down a bit there, buddy. Why the rush?

Let’s chat, huh? Have a minute to catch our breaths and a nice cool glass of lemonade. Not into lemonade? Oh, well do you mind if I have some?

I know it’s the summer and you are feeling hot, hot, hot. Raring to go. You are young, aggressive, a go-getter. Some might say…hungry.

You chew up the terrain, expand your reach, and build your empire and leave a swath of pain, ashes and devastation in your path.

You know what, I’ve been ignoring you. On purpose.

Growing up in the dusty lands of New Mexico, I learned to take the arrival of you rambunctious wildfires as part of the natural cycle of the year. It gets hot, it gets dry, then like a rabid parasite you come to visit, leaving an indelible mark much like a drug fueled rock star in a five star hotel.

Utter destruction.

Only you don’t stick around to pay the bill. You hop another border and get to work burning down something else.

I ignore you because I’ve borne witness to the people who know how to deal with you. They efficiently knock you down, smother your ambition, and wrestle you under control. I heard you were back in town and figured you’d party your way through the cycle and you’d be knocked down soon enough. Managed. Controlled.

You’re a wily one this year, aren’t you? Nimble. Agile. Persistent.

You should know something. You’re ugly, all right? Beautifully profoundly ugly.

After seeing your face last night on my local news, my Bay Area local news, I figured maybe it was time to pay you a little attention, like a bratty child who has finally worked my last nerve.

It’s time to take a look at you like passing by a horrible accident. I don’t want to look and then suddenly I can’t seem to look away.

Damn it, WildFire. Stop. Just…stop. You’ve done enough. More than enough. It’s getting excessive.

Please stop. People’s lives, livelihood, homes, neighborhoods and towns are at stake here.

You are destroying my home state. I’m very protective of my home state.

So look. Just stop. End this. Be gone. Be done. Move along.

We’ve indulged you long enough. It’s time for you to leave.

In the vernacular of my people: don’t let the gate hit you on the way out.


This image terrifies me….

Image from New Mexico News and Views.

Oh…That’s Not A Good Sound

Last evening, I sat curled up in the corner of my comfy couch, sleeping feline nearby, laptop lid up, idly surfing about, catching up on the news of the day. The Good Man did something similar in the next room. Giants baseball on the radio, the sounds of Duane Kuiper calling the game.

From out of nowhere, the lights flickered, and then went out. The instant it went dark, a loud whining sound could be heard outside. The unmistakable sound of a power transformer under extreme strain. It went on for a long time. Stopped, then started again.

And I slipped back into memory. It was the early 1990’s. My folks were living in Carlsbad and I was home for a few weeks between summer school and the start of the regular school year at NMSU.

It was a beautiful, clear summer day. I decided to take a long walk and get some exercise in before my folks came home from work. I left the house about 3:30 in the afternoon and walked down long country roads. My folks were living on the outskirts of Carlsbad at that time (if you’re from there, it was out on Cherry Lane near the CARC farm).

The first half of the walk was great. It was a gorgeous New Mexico day. On my return trip, things started to get ominous. In August in the southeastern part of the state, storms come in fast and furious. Emphasis on furious. Carlsbad is at the tail end of tornado alley, but being at the tail end doesn’t mean the tornados are any less frequent.

As I walked a little faster, the sky turned deep black, and then green. The clouds started to boil. This was bad. Very, very bad.

The rain came quickly and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. The powerful winds whipped raindrops into my bare legs and arms. Then the hail started. Small icy bits at first, then growing larger.

My whole body shuddered when I heard the sirens I’d come to both fear and hate. Tornado sirens. That meant a tornado had been spotted and all we could do was wait.

I was still about a mile from home, on foot, and in the center of the storm.

I picked up the pace a lot more. I ran off and on, but as I’m not a runner, I had to slow down so I could catch my breath.

Already drenched, I groaned when the rain picked up intensity. Thunder shook the ground, the trees, the terrified girl by the side of the road.

Lightning cracked out of the sky and hit a power pole across the street and ahead a bit.

That’s when I heard that sound. A power transformer under strain.

The power transformer exploded, sending flames and sparks into the sky.

I dove headfirst into a now very soaked alfalfa field, remembering my early training on “get low when lightning is around,” and lay as flat as possible, hugging mother earth while lightning struck all around.

Soon the heart of the storm moved on and I could hear the thunder a couple miles away, counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” between lightning strikes and thunderclaps.

When it seemed I was safe, I leapt up and ran for my folk’s home as fast as I could. I got home safely. I called my mom (a no-no in the storm, but I needed my mommy!) and since we had no tornado shelter, she recommended that I stay to the center of the house and if a tornado was coming to get into the bathtub and hunker down.

“Get ready to leave the house!” The Good Man commanded sharply, snapping me from my reverie. I was back in Northern California and that transformer sound had stopped.

I jumped to action, running to get the cat carrier out of the closet and once The Feline was secure (she loves the cat carrier and walks right in with no complaint) I ran room to room and unplugged every device that was attached to a socket. The Good Man was on the phone with PG&E advising them of the situation.

We dashed outside to see what was going on and the neighbors were all outside too, talking over what they saw and heard. Soon the sirens of a fire engine came racing toward us and the firemen let us know a powerline was down two streets over but no explanation as to why the powerline came down on a quiet evening. PG&E were on their way and we should go back inside.

We lit candles and got out flashlights and settled back into the couch. Safe. On that summer day back when in Carlsbad, I was also safe. Tornados did touch down, but several miles away.

This past April when an earthquake came along and the house and ground shook, The Good Man, a longtime veteran of the Bay Area, commanded “Get in a doorway!” and I did.

I’m grateful to have a partner who is the epitome of grace under fire, and I’m grateful for my Mom’s wise support from two decades ago, too. Mostly, I’m just grateful when there is someone strong and wise to guide me through a crisis.

That makes me feel safe.

Image from Ring Electric’s blog.

An Ode to the Magical Wood Burning Stove

Yesterday afternoon when I arrived at the El Paso Airport, I was heartened to see sunny skies and no snow on the ground.

“Ah,” I thought to myself, “it’s back to normal.” After reading reports of New Mexico’s state of emergency last week, I didn’t know what to expect.

Feeling happy to be home, I gathered my things and walked off the plane. Just outside the door I discovered that gap between the jetway and the plane’s door when a cold gust of wind whipped through and made my eyes water.


Once inside the airport, I checked the weather widget on my phone. It reported that at that very moment, it was thirty degrees in El Paso.

Thirty. A three followed by a zero. That’s all you get. Just 30 small degrees.

I’d just come from a connecting flight in San Diego where it was positively tropical.


Today I’m at my best friend’s place somewhere in the rural land outside of Las Cruces. It was a frosty night and this morning I, like all of the animals they posses, am lingering close to their beautifully old fashioned source of heat, a wonderful, magical wood burning stove.

As I sit here, I am reminded of the many ways that life is easy peasy where I live now. I want heat, I work my thermostat and the heater kicks in.

Simple. No effort.

Today I have a great warmth in my heart (pun intended) for the curative powers of fire and the simply beauty of a wood burning stove.

As the fan behind the stove kicks in to send toasty air to all corners of the room, let me take you on a journey.

It takes a lot of work to make enough fire to heat a good sized home.

To start with, just building a fire takes the use of tools.

My goddaughters are expert fire builders. They start with this small hatchet, on the ground by the stove.

They use this to ease slivers off a log for kindling. That along with some bits of newspaper help get the flames started.

Then small logs are added. The logs, of course, come from here, the ubiquitous woodpile.

I remember well (and not especially fondly) the call for “Karen! Go get a load of wood for the fireplace.” Yeah, it’s *cold* out there. I didn’t wanna brave the cold and the spiders and the rasty roadrunner living in the woodpile to bring dirty splintery wood into the house.

But I did it because the payoff was hot chocolate in front of a fire (and the consequences too hefty to ignore).

A woodpile takes work. A lot of work.

Now here’s something you don’t see in the backyard of Bay Area homes…

(not to worry, it was not left that way, I laid the axe on a stump for photographic purposes)

Off to the side is a sledgehammer and a wedge for splitting logs.

And oh hey! A bucket of pecans!

Whoops, I digress.

Back to the wood splitting. My brother did the hard work of swinging the axe and sledge. My job was to take the newly split pieces of wood and pile them up in the corner.

This work was usually done in the heat of August or September. Bleah, who wants to think about fire in the summer?

But come December I was always glad we thought about fire in the summer.

And right now, I’m very, very grateful that my best friend, her husband and kids thought about fire during the summer.

Because me, two dogs and one chatty orange cat are relying on the heat.

Baby it’s cooooold outside! C’moooon Spring!

All photos by Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone and subject to a Creative Commons license. Details in the far right column of this blog.