Upstate is cold now. Windshields are coated with frost in the morning. The storm windows are up. And regrettably, my apartment feels like an icebox. The heating system has changed since last year which means that the coal stove was replaced by a gas stove. This is a definite upgrade for my landlord who was responsible maintaining the coal stove's 12 hour cycle. Each morning and evening without fail, he had to rock the grates on the stove to shake out any ash. When that was done the ash had to be cleared and then sifted for bits of coal that had not yet burned. Those bits were placed in a bucket that was then topped off with fresh coal to be dumped into the stove.
The whole process was complicated by a rather tricky thermometer system that I didn't fully understand. What I do know is that shaking the grates was an exhausting task that could not be stopped until the heat had spiked above a certain temperature. I never got the hang of shaking and the few times I tried to stoke the stove, the results were catastrophic. On those occasions, I was responsible for almost putting out what I came to think of as the eternal flame and would then need call in a rescue stoker, usually my landlord, to return order to the cycle.
Still, the new gas stove has proved a definite downgrade when it comes to getting heat into my apartment. The problem lies in the proximity of the stove to the thermostat, no more than 10 feet away. Both are located in the downstairs kitchen that my landlords inhabit and the thermostat is set to 68 degrees. This would be a very reasonable indoor temperature if the small pocket of warmth were not counted upon to heat the entire three-story stone mansion. To make matters icier, my apartment is located in the tower which has no insolation. In fact, it gets so cold in the back rooms that the closet doors must be kept open to keep the pipes from freezing.
I don’t do well in the cold. My tendencies are frog-like--slow down, move as little as possible. Now I spend my evenings tucked under wool blankets with a hot corn bag on my feet and a space heater at my side dreaming of South America.