Wednesday, November 14, 2012


You are very welcome Kimberley.  I am so glad you wrote.  I am glad your father found a place of freedom and peace to rest at last.

In a real way, Innermost House was born out of a search for freedom and peace. Freedom from a world that made no sense to me.  The peace of an Innermost Life of meaning.

To me, the fire is the heart of peace at Innermost House and, in many ways, it is the heart of our freedom.  To how many hundreds of human generations has the scent of fire meant freedom from wandering and the peace of homecoming? With fire I found my way back to the beginning.

When we first came to the land of our new home, fire was all we were sure about.  We had left everything else behind, so we had no need to shelter anything but ourselves.  I felt a fire at the mouth of a cave would have served for me.  I felt I could do without a house, but not without a fire.

By the time our first Thanksgiving Day in Innermost House approached seven years ago I was still becoming accustomed to our new life.

We had moved into the house four months before, on the Fourth of July weekend.  The house did not yet have its cabinets or shelves.  It did not have its final floor.  Even our door was just a makeshift piece of plywood put up for the occasion.  Much remained to be done but I could not wait to enter into that place of peace and freedom.

We kindled our first fire before the end of September.  For a couple of months we were able to scavenge bits of prunings that were scattered here and there at the edges of the orchards nearby.  But by the week before Thanksgiving it was getting cold in the evenings, and we had no store of wood for the winter. 

Our fires were so much of the place that it never occurred to us to purchase cords of wood as we had done elsewhere. So we set out on the land in search of winter fuel.

Autumn comes late in California, and the sycamores and cottonwoods and maples at the forest's edge and along the creek were coming into color.  The orchard trees were harvested, their leaves and windfall apples moldering in the orchard soil.

The orchard scent was new to me, full at once of life and death, of joy and mourning.  It is strange how easy it is to feel grateful for what little you have when the scent of parting is in the air.  I suppose that scent will always mean Thanksgiving to me now.

The light, too, was new to me.  I felt I could see a thousand miles into its perfect stillness.  At the same time the long shadows cast by that low light seemed almost to bend with the weight of the ages.  The world of light and scent there on the land was full of feelings.

The orchards are kept clean in a workmanlike way during the growing season. But with the autumn they are surrendered a little to the wild.  The bands of wild turkeys roam them again, and wild pigs search for nuts and apples.  It is as if the orchard world of autumn were in retreat from the hand of cultivation.

We stopped from time to time to add some picked over apples to our basket. But we mostly kept to the edges.  The orchard riches are for farmers who have earned their harvest with their labor.  We belong to the edges of life. We come after.  We are the gleaners.

It was at the edge of a lower orchard that we came upon our treasure.  A great heap of prunings had been dumped out of sight onto the wooded slope that fell away toward the creek. 

We just stood and stared for a moment.  The afternoon had grown cold as we searched, and the shadows had overwhelmed the light.  There in the covert before us lay treasure enough to provide a whole winter's bounty of warmth and light, of cheer and Conversation.  It was all ours for the carrying.

In later years we would gather firewood from our neighbors' orchards, where the prunings would otherwise have been burned in the field.  Through all our years at Innermost House our wood came of orchard gleanings.  We were grateful for every gift of fuel, but for that first year's discovery most of all.

Light prunings make for young, fragile fires.  They are always at the edge of our awareness, whatever else we may be doing.  We know what our fire needs before it needs it, and we look after it with pleasure.  Big fires give much more, and require much less.  Tending our little fires is our way of giving thanks for this first, best friend to domestic life.

Our fires at Innermost House are as far as can be from a furnace you turn on and forget, and pretty far even from the roaring fires of family gatherings.  It is a first fire, forever young.  It is an inward fire.

Our life as we lived it at Innermost House would not have been possible without fire.  It is our link with nature, the living difference between light and darkness, between warmth and cold.  Most of all it is a beloved companion to our inward life.

I think back to those early settlers in whose memory we celebrate Thanksgiving. I imagine that, before the peas and pumpkins, before the beans and corn, before even the Thanksgiving turkey, they must have been thankful for the fire.


  1. My grandmother was German. She was a gleaner. She was always picking up sticks for kindling and stacking them in neat little piles on the front porch. She would glean apples, pears, whatever from friends even tho they had their own apples. I distinctly remember her drying them outside on muslin covered quilt frames. I also remember her peeling potatoes and leaveing a tiny pile of peelings that you could actually see through! Some of my best memories!

  2. Oh how I just LOVE the warmth of a fire....and its great how fire brings us closer together :) kind of like the light of our CREATOR....both good for the soul

  3. I just love this post! So vivid, so real, full of life. Thank you so much. For me, two essentials of any house I live in are that it has somewhere for a real fire and windows that come quite low down the wall - in those houses where the windows are set high (or will not open) I feel trapped. When I was a minister of religion we lived in "manses" (church houses that went with the appointment). For convenience of maintenance I suppose, and because fires are no longer commonly felt desirable, these houses had no fireplaces - all blocked up, all heat from the furnace. I almost went crazy without a fire - we bought a tipi and put it in the garden so I could have fires again.

  4. this post is poetry diana.
    like a warm cheery fire. thank you!

  5. Beautiful post, Diana.

    Your explanation of 'first fires' as opposed to the 'roaring fires of family gatherings' has opened my eyes to the benefits of each type of fire and helped me to realize that there is a special relationship to the type of fire that requires one's ongoing attention, in the moment.

    My current lifestyle dictates that I have a fire in an airtight (closed front) fireplace, but I now better understand the beauty and charm of a small open fire and the mindfulness it requires.

  6. Diana, I am not sure if you meant us to take literally your words: "I felt a fire at the mouth of a cave would have served for me. I felt I could do without a house, but not without a fire." You have since accumulated books and practical household objects. Do you still feel that a fire at the mouth of a cave would serve you now? I am very curious about this idea because I remember that you have also said in the past that everything in the house is because of Michael and everything not in the house is because of you. You have also said in a recent post that you wouldn't really change anything in your next IH so perhaps this question has already been answered. "smile"

  7. I found the fact that you moved into IH on the Fourth of July weekend which celebrates our country's freedom to be a very appropo tribute to your own journey's quest for inner freedom. I suspect that weekend was not selected randomly for your move-in date!

  8. Dear Diana, If I could make an account of all of my favorite times, it would not surpass the account you have given here. I am a gleaner also. It is a practice that most gives me the experience of God's great care for me. Fruit wood branches give the must delicious fragrances. And black walnut branches when they fall. A neighbor once dropped in one day when I was burning some to say "What are you cookin' in there, Julie? It smells so good!" But I was only cookin' up a little heat and light. And last Saturday I gleaned two cabbages the size of basketballs from Hippie Joe's fields that have been played out. He lets me have them. I ought to have sauerkraut into next August from such big cabbages. My innards will be rejoicing.

    People in other parts of the world live in caves to this very day. I think I would be pleased myself to have such fine ready-made accommodations. And sauerkraut keeps well under those conditions--Ha ha.

    When the time comes for me to make a tiny house, I intend to move right into it as soon as it's "in the dry", as you and Michael did--and go on with it from there. There will be no need to hurry then. (I am in no hurry now.)

    And a fire will be made as the first order of business there, no matter what the season. The fire, the fire, the fire. It's the one thing that most informs my dreams. Thank you again, Friend.

  9. And we are the gleaners of each others' insights!

  10. Thanks for sharing this lovely story Diana.


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