The Sweet Scent of Wood Smoke

While driving to work this week I was stopped at a red light, where the sweet aroma of wood smoke arrived. This got me thinking about the different forms of heating, and what they mean to me.

The idea of central heating started with the Romans and their hypocausts. A large furnace would heat the air underneath the floors of their villas, providing central warmth. In contrast, the dark ages were dark indeed, and cold. Large stone castles and keeps would be cold, with the area around the hearth being the main sources of heat. In some ways, this mirrors the internal withdrawal from the rest of the world.

During the industrial age, the move from the pleasant aroma of wood shifted to the noxious fumes of coal, and later natural gas. While these forms of heating are more consistent over longer periods of time, they still don’t provide the same level of comfort as a nice wood stove.

A gas fireplace can provide many of the positive characteristics of a wood stove, and is certainly safer, but doesn’t provide me with the same level of perceived comfort. I don’t know if it’s from watching the wood crackle and spark, or watching the flames dance in ways which gas fireplaces do not, but wood fires seem more animate.

I also associate campfires with family time. At the cottage, we would often roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the bed of coals, while listening to loon songs echoing over the lake.

I’m not surprised when I’m told that scents are closely associated with memories. Even the slight whiff of wood smoke can release some pleasant memories.