Where there’s fire there’s….

M. at fireplace

…great pleasure in the evenings, warm in front of our newly repaired fireplace. It only took a couple of days of a “maestro” and his helper on the rooftop, tearing down the upper chimney and tossing flying chunks of brick, tiles, adobe and concrete into the yard below, where they gouged out great chunks of grass. This followed by more days of interior work, with clouds of dust and more debris as the inside chimney came down, along with scorched boards and beams. That left a hole into the sky from our living room, so in the evenings Michael and I hunkered around the dining room table, where we ate, watched our entertainment on my laptop, and tried to resist going to bed too early. Then, another “maestro” came to install a steel chimney, followed by a day or so of cleanup, and – ¡que milagro! – we had a fireplace again. But will it work as well?

clean up chimney

steel maestro

For those of you who like the details, the new chimney, the round steel tube you see on the left, is slightly larger than the old, square one that leaked gas and smoke because it had not been well attached. But with a fire it drew like a dream! The new chimney takes more work to start a fire without smoking up the living room, because the larger shaft of cold air must be heated before the chimney begins to draw. In other words, it’s trickier to get a fire going. But Michael is learning new methods, and last night, as he sat in front of his crackling, non-smoking fire at cocktail hour (see first photo above), he waxed eloquent about the Zen of firewood and fire making and announced he felt a haiku coming on….

Two logs, placed just so….A smaller one goes between…Fire awakes in dance

Don’t laugh. Friends from Norway wrote: “Lots of wood houses and fireplaces here. The bestseller last year was a book called On Firewood. It was followed by a 6-hour TV show that the USA made fun of, about woodcutting, wood stacking, wood burning and et cetera et cetera. Millions have responded from around the world. So, Michael, Judy, you are in the loop. Norway still has chimney sweeps, no longer gender specific, with ladders and brushes and black outfits. Very serious stuff.”

*  *  *  *plowing w mountains

Another pleasure of living in Cañar is watching daily life around us. When that includes looking out our windows on a Saturday morning to see that Jose Maria and his family are preparing to plow our back field, we feel especially lucky. “You’d better come with your camera,” Michael yelled as Jose Maria was lashing a wooden yoke to the horns of two bulls. He attached a long wooden shaft to the yoke, both hard-carved, with a triangular steel plow, also lashed on with cowhide. The hoke and plow come in pieces so they can be carried by a man and his wife into fields near or far, part of a tradition of cultivating the land that goes back hundreds of years, since draft animals were introduced to the New World by the Spanish. Narcisa and two daughters brought five or six of their sheep to graze for the day on the weeds before they were plowed under. Nothing is wasted.

close up yoke

This plowing of our field happens only once in the six months we’re here – usually about this time. Crops are planted according to the rainy seasons – the spring rains have just begun – but we never know when plowing will happen. So we were particularly happy that friends from Portland were visiting and able to see this wonderful sight. Our arrangement with Jose Maria and his family is this: they watch our house and water our patio plants while we’re gone, and in return they plant our land for their two yearly crops: corn, potatoes, peas and, this time, quinoa.

As the bulls pulled, Jose Maria kept the plow buried in the ground with his weight (very hard work) and yelled in a special language only the bulls seem to understand, telling them when to stop, go and turn around. His middle daughter Sarita, 14, suddenly looking like a lovely young woman, walked ahead to guide the bulls, or stopped to gather potatoes of the last crop that the plowing uncovered, with Narcisa, her mother and Maria, the youngest daughter.

Sarita with papas

Lourdes, the oldest daughter, had a kidney transplant last fall and she doesn’t work in the fields. She was at home preparing lunch. Around 1:00, Lourdes and Maria appeared with food wrapped in shawls on their backs, including warm boiled potatoes and hot sauce made with chile, parsley and peanuts. They family sat in the field for a picnic, and shared with us  – delicious. In return, Michael offered the traditional drink for plantings and harvests, canelaso, a hot tea with a shot of Zhumir alcohol added for the men.

After lunch, plowing and harvesting continued all day, until dusk.

harvesting papas


Sarita + LourdesSarita braiding Lourdes’ hair. Lourdes is 16 now and doing well with her new kidney, although her growth has been seriously compromised by her disease. At least now, free of dialysis, she has a chance for a normal life. An excellent student before her kidney failure three years ago, she will be able to return to high school next September. Later in the day, while her family worked in the field, Lourdes sat on our front lawn and read a book by Isabel Allende. We invited her to come sit by the fire, but she said she was fine, and would stay right where she was.

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7 thoughts on “Where there’s fire there’s….

  1. Always love to hear about your adventures…and you have many! Thanks for sharing the great stories and beautiful pictures. Looks like your house is back to normal again. Enjoy your Happy Hours by the fire!!!

  2. There aren’t many photographs that one could call perfect, but this one of your home with campesinos in front, all the activity, the warm orange and green tones, the iconic nature of all that it captures about your life in Cañar – this one, comes very close. Enjoy.

  3. Hi sister, loved it all, as usual. mom would have loved this one, with the girls and
    the picnic and the sheep grazing in the field. Everything you photo and write about
    needs to be bound in a book! xoC

  4. Wonderful, and congratulations on your new fireplace. May the drama be done for the year. If it isn’t one thing it is another.

  5. So glad to hear that the fireplace was repaired so quickly!
    More importantly, so happy to hear that Lourdes is doing well. Your original story about her was so heartbreaking, it’s good to hear that things are going better for her now!

  6. Judy, gracias por compartir siempre esas hermosas historias de lugar, vida y gentes. La casa es hermosa, ese salón con el fuego es tan agradable a los ojos, me puedo imaginar que delicioso es cuando hace frío.

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