Running for the Hills: “Hearth of the Home”


 In May of 2011, Sister Jann McClary and her husband Tariq moved from the Washington DC metropolitan area to establish a new home in the mountains of Colorado, building it from the ground up as part of their plan to become free of the spiritual and physical stress of modern urban life. Sister Jann is documenting her experiences for the Muslim Link. See her earlier installments at by searching for "Running for the Hills". Make sure you select "Exact Phrase" in the search options. – TML

Since the time Allah subhana wa ta'ala created Adam (alahi-salaam) and taught him how to kindle fire, mankind has loved to sit around a crackling fire, enjoying the warmth and spacing out while gazing into the flames. Once man learned to control this fire to some extent, he set about devising ways to contain it, harness it and keep it in his home. He went from simple fire pits in the ground, to stone fire enclosures built into walls, to all manner of free-standing structures to hold fire and give off heat.

The most iconic heat-holding structure for homesteaders is a woodstove. It evokes images of fresh baked breads, big cast iron pots of steaming stews, strong brewed coffee and Saturday night baths. It's the first thing to be fired up in the morning, ready to hold its place as the dispenser of heat and hot water, the maker or breaker of your reputation as a country cook, the center of your homestead hideaway.

So, you say, if they're so crucial to life as we know it, why doesn't everybody have a woodstove? Why aren't there woodstoves in apartment buildings and townhouses, for crying out loud? Wellll... first of all they're heavy as all get-out, and you'd need to reinforce the kitchen floors which wouldn't sit well with the neighbors under you, who already have a problem with the thud of your knees as you hit the ground in sajdah at 5-something every morning. Then you'd have to find a way to route all those pipes through all those walls and ceilings without creating a piping nightmare. And of course, there's the problem of everybody's wood piles out in the hallways tripping people up, attracting spiders, and leaving bark and twigs strewn all over the place. Needless to say, woodstoves are best suited to stand-alone homes where the homeowner alone is the only one who has to stand his messy wood pile.

There's a certain mystique, a certain “je ne sais quoi”, also known as a learning curve, that comes with a woodstove. You don't just turn on a knob, wait for the familiar clickclickclickclick and up pops a soft blue flame to heat up your latest ramen noodle masterpiece. Before you can bake beans or sauté spinach there's work to be done! Grab the matches and crumpled newspaper. Make sure you've got your kindling close at hand. Keep that can of salt over the stove filled because it's the next best thing to a fire extinguisher when you get a little too happy with the firewood.

You build your woodstove fire pretty much like you'd build a fire when you go camping. Start by putting the kindling, the little twigs and such, in the firebox, till the fire catches, then build up with thicker sticks till you have a few good solid flames. Add one or two split logs at a time until you have the fire going nice and strong. Close the firebox door and open the damper a bit so there's air for the fire to breathe. You'll notice that there are six burner plates on the stove and where you position your pots and pans determines the heat you get. There are no knobs to turn up or down, the further you move your pot over from the firebox the less heat you get. So if you want to boil something quickly, leave it on the burner plate right over the firebox. If you only want to simmer, them move it all the way to the right on the burner plate furthest from the firebox. Obviously, the burner plates in the middle get you the medium heat. See? Simple. This is all in theory mind you, as our stove has yet to be fully installed, and I've more experience with the clickclickclickclick-thing. But having cooked over an open campfire, and watched friends cook over their woodstoves though, I think it should be a piece of cake. Insha Allah.

But you can't take a stove for granted, no matter what kind it is. There was many a day when the wives of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) kindled no fire in their homes and all they had to eat was dates and water. Just getting this monster into the house and piped properly will make you appreciate its position in the home, both figuratively and literally. It took 4 stout friends, a flatbed trailer, a 10ft plank and a come-a-long winch to get it up the front steps and into our cabin. Our woodstove is a Majestic brand, early 1920s I suspect, though it's difficult to confirm because the Majestic Company made over 2 million stoves between 1880 and 1940, and many models looked alike. Ours looked like heck before we had it sandblasted and painted with high-heat stove paint. Once we get her out of the middle of the cabin and secured over the 13” log girder that runs under the length of the house, hooked up to the stove pipe and fired up, she'll be just fine.

Why would we put all this effort into an appliance that most folks stopped using in the 1930s? Because one day the fuel that most folks use to cook their food may not be available, or affordable anymore. We've got trees on 40 acres. By carefully selecting and managing them we should have enough wood for our stove to last until we're both long gone. And no monthly fuel bill.