‘There is something nostalgic about smoke that reminds us of warm places’

Smoke used to be a vital part of our community. The smoke rising out of the homes in our community is a visible vapor that arises from a burning substance especially from wood, coal, petroleum and leaves. Smoke contains water vapor, carbon dioxide and some other gases. But the visible part is minute particles of unburned carbon that form soot. Good combustion makes very nearly invisible smoke, but damp or uncured wood and soft coal like we have here can produce large quantities of dark smoke.

I had the opportunity in 1955-1965 as I rode my horse, Bob, back and forth to school, to learn the lessons smoke had to tell me. I usually started my morning ride at about 7:00 a.m.; in the early fall days about the only smoke was from stoves being stoked up to fix a hot biscuit and gravy breakfast for the students. Then the stove was allowed to cool down to emit only a small curl of smoke. As the fire is first lit, lots of smoke rises as it took a hot fire to bake biscuits. As the mornings grew colder like in November, the second fire was started, so there was usually smoke from two chimneys. That fire was quickly different as coal was added to the wood to keep a much longer fire. That could mean a large amount of smoke until the fire made a hot bed of coals to maintain the heat.

On my return ride from school, I could easily tell which homes were welcoming the children home to a hot meal. It was indeed a welcoming sight to see that smoke rising from the one or two chimneys which meant not only a hot meal but a warm place for the family.

Another lesson from smoke was the weather forecast. Smoke rising straight up out of the chimney usually meant good weather, but if the smoke had a hard time getting out of the chimney and blew down along the roof―watch out for rainy, stormy even snowy weather. Sometimes the smoke could not make up its mind which to do, that usually forecasted unsettled weather. It reminded me of some people who just couldn’t seem to make up their minds and wandered around in a fog or smoke.

There is something nostalgic about smoke that reminds us of warm places and good hot food. Some restaurants even have a fire in the fireplace to give a certain homey atmosphere. Maybe that is why I live in a log cabin heated by a wood stove.