Last week my little humble home stepped into a new era – I had a fire installed, a slow-combustion wood heater, I should say. Technically I don’t need it. There’s an old coal burner in the front room that’s now a library; I can use the coal burner to burn wood should I want a fire. Plus I’m lucky to have ducted gas heating and a wall-mounted gas heater the size of a very large travelling suit-case. And electric bar heaters. And an electric blanket on the bed. In this Southern Tablelands neck of New South Wales, winters do have a bite – heavy frosts are common, we regularly have minus-six mornings (which, according to the Bureau of Meteorology actually feel like minus-ten), even the odd snow flurry. But I have my range of heaters, and, when I’m here alone, I wear thermal undies, because they make things just that little more bearable, and I really can’t afford to run the gas heating for long stretches.
Still I had a slow-combustion wood heater installed last week. A man came by and did it for me, because I wouldn’t have had the first clue where to start.
Despite being a winter person, I’m finding more and more that I need heat, good, dry, radiant heat. So there it is, the fire, sitting in the lounge-room where the piano used to be (the piano that’s now in the front room, glancing back at the coal burner). My new slow-combustion wood heater is a big black cast-iron box of a thing, a massive black flue that gives the room an industrial aesthetic. I can’t wait to get to 6pm tonight and light the fire, because I’ll want that good, dry, radiant heat, the flames, the glowing, dancing yellow-orange light, the smell of hardwood burning, the pop and crackle of it all, which scares the living daylights out of The Old Lady of the House. I’ll pour myself a glass of white wine, or Cointreau, or American Honey whiskey, and sit in front of the heat.
Because I’m a melancholic – that’s the real reason why I love my new fire so much. Melancholia is my natural habitat, it always has been.
I love melancholic books: The Remains of the Day, The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, Holding the Man, Brideshead Revisited, Brokeback Mountain, Disgrace. I love melancholic music: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Red House Painters, The Smiths, Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, M83, Arvo Part, Johan Johannson. I’m not depressed, although there have been times when that’s exactly what I have been. I’m just a miserable old melancholic – I have, as my Oxford Australian Reference Dictionary makes clear, ‘a habitual or constitutional tendency to pensive sadness’. Pensive: deep in thought. Don’t you love how words can take us on journeys, take us from one place to another!
I think my new fire takes me from one place to another, from the surface-tension of the present to deep within myself, to that core of melancholia that’s there, that which I was born with, that which I will die with. Because, as strange as it may sound, I’m happiest in that place. No doubt the fire is more friend than foe, taking me down there but, most importantly, bringing me back, warming me up, sending me to bed, reminding me that, more or less, everything will be alright in the morning.