Withdrawal and escapism isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve noticed quite a number of people mentioning, recently, that the network news seems bad for their mental health. Though ordinarily they are people who like to stay up-to-date on current affairs, they simply find the news too aggravating.

One person stated that nowadays the news seems carefully crafted to offend. For example, a recent prisoner-exchange with Russia involved an offensive (to patriots) celebrity who had been convicted of possessing illegal drugs being rescued, as a decorated marine was left behind. News such as this seems designed to infuriate. (One bitter person suggested that the only good that could come from such an exchange was that perhaps many more celebrities would be kidnapped and incarcerated in foreign jails, held hostage forever, because we’ve nothing left to exchange.) In any case, rather than walking about infuriated, some people simply have cut back on their consumption of news. They state their health has greatly improved.

My personal escape is to go back in time. I was reading that even Winston Churchill was forced to do this, even on the cusp of World War Two. He didn’t actually want to escape, but he had to earn a living, and therefore he had to crank out a history book he was contracted to write. He’d already received (and spent) the advance he negotiated. Even as Hitler marched into Poland Churchill had to write about Joan of Arc in 1430. He stated it took a supreme act of concentration to rip his mind from politics and do his writing. It is far easier for me.

My recent escapism has involved reading about Henry the Navigator during that same time period, because I love reading how the Portuguese sailors learned to stop hugging the coasts, and became men who could spend days and even weeks out of sight of land. The records of where those sailors went were very well kept, and the libraries in Lisbon were some of the world’s greatest. Apparently several contained over 20,000 books by the 1700’s, but all was reduced to ashes by a terrible earthquake in 1755. The earthquake occurred on All Saints Day, when it was a tradition to have lit candles in houses, and this caused so many house fires to break out that the inferno turned into a terrible firestorm. For that reason much that the Portuguese sailors did vanished from the world of verifiable history, fading into the mists of wonderful lore.

As I sat by my wood stove, contemplating things that occurred hundreds of years ago, so far from reality I was like a sailor out of sight of land, I heard an ominous siren in the distance, starting at the fire station and slowly crossing the unseen horizon. I wryly thought to myself someone else’s wood stove wasn’t as well behaved as mine, and had gotten out of hand. Our local fire department tends to see a cluster of chimney fires every autumn, when the weather first gets cold, because people neglected to get their chimney’s swept over the summer.

I did better than that. I replaced my entire stovepipe. The old pipe was a top-of-the-line, double-layered, insulated pipe, but thirty-five years had beaten the bleep out of it. Falling branches in a terrible ice-storm dented it, and at the dents corrosion had set in, and also, despite sweeping, a gradual growth of creosote harder than coal, (which a sweep’s bristles couldn’t budge), were clotting it like a fat man’s arteries. It had to go.

Wincing slightly I paid $1500.00 for the sections of new pipe, and then, huffing and puffing more than slightly, I clambered up my ladder and replaced the entire thing. Now the stove has a wonderful draught. When the stove is open full-bore it practically sucks in the furniture, and the stove glows wonderful warmth.

Despite all precautions there’s inherent dangers in burning wood, and insurance agents can get downright nasty about wood-stoves, referring to books of carefully calculated “risk”. They tire me. “Risk” is all over the place, and even if you bundle everything in bubble-wrap, a Lisbon-Earthquake-of-1755 is liable to befall you. Then, if falling walls don’t crush you, and the huge tsunami doesn’t drown you, and the firestorm doesn’t cook you, and the lack of oxygen near the fire doesn’t asphyxiate you, the crazed populace is liable to blame the entire event on you, and burn you as a witch. Risk is always around us, and sometimes the obsession on “risk” makes me wish insurance agents would all trip on little children’s runaway marbles and….. and…. have a sense of humor.

In actual fact I think the real reason people moved away from wood fires is all the work involved, not the danger. There is the hauling the wood in, and the hauling the ashes away, and the sweeping up afterwards. All this effort is avoided with gas heat. Of course, gas causes incredible explosions, which is why oil heat was originally advertised as being “safest.” But, of course, now people get all bent out of shape about fossil fuels, and say oil heat causes the oceans to rise, icecaps to melt, and songbirds to sing out of tune. They insist that, to be safe, we all need to freeze. To be safe fuel prices need to soar through the roof. The ironic mantra I now hear a lot is, “Heating or Eating; you can’t have both.”

With the focus on fretting so much, I can see why people turn off the news. We have a need to sometimes sail out of sight of land. If you are not told over and over and over again how dreadful and awful and terrible fire is, maybe then you can see it as a friend.

I'm up when all is hushed to feed the fires
But don't go back to bed. Something about
The quiet quells my sluggish, yawned desires.
I sip coffee and help the fire not go out.
Or, to confess, I'm playing with my old friend
And memory looks back sixty-five long years
To when I got scolded. It doesn't end:
This long relationship with what dries tears
And has warmed me when I had no lover.
It puts up with a poking scientist
And allows my balked mind to discover
Unknown avenues. My warmed cheek is kissed. 
In deserts, by oceans, through hot spells and snows
I feed and am fed and companionship grows.