It’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m parked in a line of cars and trucks out in front of the fire-log store. The store doesn’t open until 9:30, but last week when I came here I was 17th in line at 11 a.m. and they ran out of logs before my turn. Today I am sixth, fortified with hot coffee, my notebook in which to write this story, and a maroon-colored pen, in honor of International Women’s Day.
We’ve had a colder, wetter winter than usual, which has led to supply problems at the source of these fire logs in Idaho, and transportation problems when both snowstorms and mudslides closed the Interstate. What used to be an errand I could fit anywhere into my week has turned out to be more complicated. I call the answering machine to hear when logs are expected and reorganize my whole day around getting in line.
Last week, when I was shut out, I burned partly seasoned oak and apple that I have in my yard waiting for next winter. It was a good lesson in how hard it is to start a fire with green wood, how much attention is required to keep it going, and how fast wood burns compared to the pressed sawdust logs I normally use. I even relied on my propane wall heater for two nights, which is insanely expensive and loud. I installed it only for those rare occasions when I’m too sick to make a fire.
We’re living in uncertain times, you may have noticed. For a lot of us, especially middle-class white people, not very uncertain, yet, and not permanently so, we hope. But the national mood is not as confident as it was last year. It’s interesting to watch one small thing change and think about how it forces me to reorganize the way I operate. It’s nice to be warm in the wintertime. But I could wear a coat and gloves in the house, cover my single pane windows with extra blankets over the curtains, and do a lot more before I would actually freeze. Heck, I could go to a café. My life would be more disrupted if the shortage were heart meds.
I think of Anna Akhmatova writing her poems in Russian bread lines. Competing for food seems much more serious than for fire logs at the tail end of winter. Right now, sixth in line, I feel a camaraderie with my fellows. Up and down the block, people are standing around talking, waving to their friends driving by. If this were a grocery store and we were already hungry, I don’t think it would be so calm.
You don’t really know what you’ll do in an emergency until it happens. But it’s good to look around at your life and feel the things that are changing. I’d like to at least be ready to take a shortage more seriously, should another one arise, and maybe be prepared with interim supplies. Fire logs, heart medicine, black beans, maroon pens, coffee.
Possibly even a very small stash of cat food.