Feeding Penelope

In this house, this attractive house which most would love to live in, is a wood burning boiler which I have been ‘feeding’ these past days. As I type the smell of wood smoke fills my nostrils – all of my clothing is now infused with wood smoke through and through. There is no getting away from it. Feeding a fire for most of the day takes dedication, and time. Penelope, the name of the house and the boiler combined, sits in the back of my mind. A constant presence calling me back for more wood every couple of hours or so. And just so it is clear, there is nothing other than the wood burner and wood storage in the house. No accommodation, none.

But what is interesting is the affection everybody has for Penelope. This simple ol’ wood burning monster all be it housed in rural luxury is the object of affection in the community well past what might be normal for a functional piece of equipment. I think what we are looking at is a case of anthropomorphism and while I am not much up for doing that I’m (almost) hopelessly drawn in. No, I don’t knock on the door before entering but I do ‘speak to her’. There is a living belching mass in that house. I’m honoured to be it’s keeper however I’m keeping things on a strictly impersonal level from now on. I’ll let her know!

On a not completely unrelated subject this afternoon I was contempating talking about Nirvana to a group here on an introductory retreat. That’s Nirvana the extinction of suffering, the third of the Four Noble Truths. That’s the extinguishing of the three fires of greed, anger and delusion which keep the wheel of becoming turning. However when it came to it I talked about how Buddhist practice brings about a changed relationship with existence. One where the sense of separation between me and everything else transforms to one less person centered, less me centered.

Penelope is not personal or impersonal and in a real way we are not two. And, anybody who has ever fed a fire falls in love, just a little.

Do take a look at that link wheel of becoming. It is a great infographic on the basics of Buddhist teaching.

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5 thoughts on “Feeding Penelope”

  1. Oh, it brings up happy memories of postulant and novice training at Shasta Abbey. I was often the keeper of the Meditation Hall stove boiler which was a wood-burner we called the Dragon. Chopping. Hauling. Stacking. Minding. It was exactly like that for me, feeling connected, and hearing it call me every few hours, singing “feed me more wood please.”

    1. Yes I fed that stove too, the name must have come later. On bath days, and the day before, I was kept particularly busy running back and forth feeding it. Take a look at the link to wheel of becoming which I have just changed to point at a flash based Wheel of Life. You may have seen it before but it is a really helpful way to understand and put together Buddhist doctrine.

      Get some rest Reverend. I might say the same thing to myself when I glance and see what the time is right now.

  2. That brings back a distant memory from a winter’s week in 1979 at Throssel when Rev. Rokusan assigned me the task of looking after the old Aga stove in the kitchen and the wood burner in the common room beneath the old zendo.

    They needed attention on the hour every hour throughout. Especially that old Aga, it was a frail old lady of a thing.


  3. Interesting how, in two short months, your thoughts went from “Fire! Fire!” in a Dharma Talk 9/21 when forests nearby were ablaze and belching smoke everywhere, to this delightful blog about feeding a fire in your cozy home. Truly, a lesson in impermanence as the seasons changed, and fire changed from “foe” to “friend.” There must be a major life lesson here… it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it.

    Nancy Anderson

    1. I am so glad somebody ‘got this’ and articulated the link to the Fire Fire talk and post in September. I didn’t spell out that fire is neither friend or foe, it is just fire. So a matter of ones relationship to it. And acknowledging one’s self interest regarding it. The wood burner/fire is personal and non personal. Of course we have a very immediate self interest, if the fire goes out the water cools and people become cold. If the fire spreads homes get burnt up and people die. All a matter of ones relationship to what is before one. This morning I could sense a change as I stoked up the fire chamber. Just fire, nothing more.

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