Jessie Raymond: Working hard for simple pleasures
I spent last Sunday afternoon watching YouTube videos of people preparing meals on their wood cook stoves.
I’m pretty sure I am not normal.
But lately I’ve become obsessed with the idea of installing an antique wood cook stove in our kitchen. And cooking on it.
I’m totally serious.
Years ago, we had a standard wood stove, and I miss it. Then, on a recent trip to a farm museum, I saw a wood cook stove in action and it got me all jazzed up. Standing there, I could picture it: It’s a cold winter’s day. A cast-iron, nickel-trimmed cook stove fills our kitchen with welcome warmth. Chicken stew simmers fragrantly on the cook top (the “hob,” in case you haven’t been doing as much Internet research as I have). Bread dough rises in the warming oven.
A museum volunteer with quick reflexes caught me mid-swoon.
For now, it’s just a dream. We have no stove and no chimney and I have a documented lack of interest in keeping wood chips and ashes properly swept up. Still, I can’t stop telling people about my plan.
So far no one else shares my enthusiasm.
Their immediate response, after asking me to repeat myself, is “Why make life harder than it already is?”
Like that’s a bad thing.
A coworker who initially questioned my sanity later conceded that he understands. After all, he chooses to ride his bike from Bristol to Middlebury and back every day — year round and in all weather. Sure, it saves money, it’s good exercise, it’s environmentally friendly.
Convenient it’s not.
Then there are the people who knit lace shawls, run marathons, restore old cars, write novels, grow vegetables and engage in all kinds of personally challenging but ultimately unnecessary activities. And what about hunters and fishermen? Why do they waste all that time and money in a pursuit that, as much as they hate to admit it, often yields a frying pan full of nothing?
Instead of arguing that there’s no joy in doing things that are needlessly difficult, I would argue that there’s no satisfaction in doing things that are needlessly easy. (Hence my gripe with frozen pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which exist. But that’s a rant for a different day.)
Interestingly, because I happen to be fascinated by skills that were essential prior to the Industrial Revolution, some people think I wish I had lived back in the olden days.
Not on your life.
Central heating means an awful lot to me, as does refrigeration. I’m also really happy with mascara, women’s voting rights, debit cards and access to regular teeth cleanings. Online shopping and ibuprofen rank right up there, too.
I do like to bake bread and spin yarn. On the other hand, I’m not sad that outhouses have gone out of style. And I can’t overstate my appreciation of hot and cold running water
For me, it’s all about “voluntary simplicity.” (Actually, it’s rarely simple, but it is totally voluntary.) I use my clothesline and grow vegetables, but I also have a dryer and go to the grocery store. And even if someday I get my wood cook stove, believe me: I will never part with my kitchen range.
Despite my general laziness (Exhibit A: the soap scum in my shower), I get a kick out of making things from scratch. The further I take something from its basic elements to a finished product, the greater my feeling of accomplishment.
My homemade chicken stew might not actually taste better than the canned stuff (oh, please, of course it does) but the more effort I put into it the more pleasure I derive from it. If I could take it that one extra step and cook it on a working wood cook stove, why I bet the stew pot would radiate a pure gold light that could be seen from the Adirondacks.
Maybe I’m weird for challenging myself to do things that technology has made unnecessary, but as Booker T. Washington said, “Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”
Then again, maybe hard work — as my mother used to say — is “like banging your head against a wall: It feels so good when you stop.”
Either way, I’m happy.