The woodstove had been in the family a long time. No one really knew how long, but a few of generations for sure. It had heated the family home for years.

Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up.  The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.

For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.MaineCabinTXT

The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.

The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.

Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.

The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.

The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.

It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.

Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.

Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.

As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.

It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse.  Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.

It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died.  With the fish gone, the loons  didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.

That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


  1. That was full,of meaning. What a wood stove had for a purpose. We have woidstoves still in Switzerland. They are in the nice houses that people build, more a gimmick than anything to do with the good old days when they were appreciated.


    1. We have a wood stove in our living room. It works amazingly well … too well for this house, as it turns out. But if we ever need it, a fire in the belly of that little stove can turn the entire upper story of this house into a sauna. Of course, the one we have is an old one, which means, it works. A lot of the new ones are made mostly for decorations. Our doesn’t decorate so much as it cooks 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Here it was coal fires…and no cabins. But the one fire heated the home, cooked the food and served as the heart as well as the hearth of the household. In my new-built place, I have central heating… very convenient, and expensive. Not even a hint of a fireplace, nor anywhere to put even a fake one. It doesn’t seem right.


    1. One of the reasons we bought this place was it had two fireplaces. When we installed the wood stove upstairs, it never occurred to us there could be such thing as “too much heat,” but it turned out the little wood stove is like a small blast furnace. When Garry lit it up (Garry LOVES fires), I had to leave the room and hide in the bedroom. After the attic was insulated, it became impossible to use it unless there was no other heat. I miss having a fire! We can always go downstairs and sit around the other fireplace if we get desperate 🙂


        1. We had no fireplace for all the years we were in Boston, so it was a big deal when we finally got one — again. Even though we don’t get to use it very often anymore, it matters that it IS there. It’s the heart of the home.


          1. I agree with you, Marilyn. New builds seem to imagine the TV can fulfil that role… the screen may have become a focus in many homes, but the heart? I don’t think so…


            1. There is something about fire. It is the heart not only of a home, but of many other things. When I had a teepee, I got REALLY REALLY FAST at getting the fire lit. When it’s way below zero (F, so very far below zero), you need to get the fire going in less than two minutes or your hands will freeze. I got truly speedy 😀


  3. we have three, one of which strongly resembles the one in the photo. And they do a damn fine job of heating the house, and keep the humans warm, lugging wood in and ashes out. I’d not want any other kind of heat…


    1. Ours turned this floor into an oven. I think you could have baked bread on our sofa. It’s such a small stove, it didn’t occur to me that it was too powerful for this space. The good thing is that if other heat fails, that little stove will easily keep this entire floor and maybe downstairs too as warm as freshly made toast. And it smells so much better than an oil furnace!


    1. The first stove was part of a cabin in Maine where we camped every year for a long time. It was a wonderful stove and those long summer weeks camping by the lake were magical. It ended and sadly, when they clear-cut the area, the lake was poisoned from all the washed down wood cuttings. By now, the lake has probably come back again, or at least I’d like to think so.


        1. Wood pulp is not meant to be in your water. There are a lot of natural things that are poison, including arsenic, which you can find in apple pits and cyanide. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t make it healthy. Or make it something we should put in our water. Coal is natural too, but you don’t want to breathe it.


          1. This is true. I forgot about pulp. I was thinking in terms of fallen trees which happen regularly here (the island is a logging haven). My mind is elsewhere atm. I’ve lost my account yet again. I just posted about it. All I can (sort of) wrap my mind around right now. Mostly because of the amount of work it will take to re-establish everything. Not to mention, the finances of it all.


            1. Even fallen trees. If ENOUGH of them dissolve in a lake or stream, it changes the PH factor and the fish — and plants — will die. That’s why we remove fallen trees if we want the fish.


              1. Gotcha. I was reading about a lake in Ontario that a guy has pulled hundreds of fallen trees out of that are hundreds of years old and was drying them then cutting them and selling for thousands as it was so old and hard that it was almost unbreakable and he was eating up saws trying to chew the trees into planks. Fascinating stuff. They mentioned that the lake was making a come back so I get that they can make a difference, I just hadn’t thought it through.


    1. I hope that the lake has come back. It was a beautiful, deep cold lake with springs and moose used to swim across it to get to the water lilies — that being a moose’s idea of the perfect dessert. There is nothing as cozy as the smell of a wood fire.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I went outside the other day and I could smell somebody burning wood. A flood of memories came back. Days gone by … but there was indeed something cozy about those old stoves.


    1. A couple of people nearby heat with wood stoves and I love the smell. There’s a lot of free wood locally, if you have the strength to go get it. We’ve traded cutting down trees for wood, too.


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