December 26, 2022 Editor

Firewood will save the West

Our dysfunctional society must return to the hearth

Paul Kingsnorth is a novelist and essayist. His latest novel Alexandria is published by Faber. He also has a Substack: The Abbey of Misrule.

December 26, 2022

image above: I discovered the joy of woodworking in use of a chainsaw and a 22-ton wood-splitter. Who knew? Until we moved to the wilderness . . . The joy of hard work. The satisfaction of keeping the home fires burning. The delight in nature . . . I could go on. In a word: grateful. We should be so privileged. We seek to give back in some small way.

Conversation is directed into the fire while dreams and images are drawn out of it.John Michell

WN: This is a fascinating essay, with much wisdom about the (lost art of the) centrality of hearth and home. Granted: it is not achievable for the vast majority of humanity. The next best thing: for those “haves” (like us), making such a welcoming place for others. This I say as I look into our woods at a lovely wood-burning-heated cabin we built for others to retreat and find respite to/in. We’re however the prime beneficiaries!


Woodstoves are, curiously, becoming the number one air pollution villain. Never mind mass car use, accelerating air travel or industrial pollution. Never mind the emissions caused by the massive increase in Internet server farms, which within just a few years could be using up an astonishing 70% of this country’s electricity. These days, if you want to demonstrate your social responsibility, you should be all aboard with the abolition of the traditional fireplace and its replacement with “green” alternatives.

Something else is happening here, though. The campaign against warming your own house with your own fire is not quite what it claims to be. Sometimes it looks more like a displacement activity, as if a government and a nation which has no interest in actually cutting its consumerist lust down to size is going for an easy target. But it is also something with more symbolism, more mythic meat, than any discussion about “carbon emissions” would suggest. The fireplace, whether our dessicated urban authorities know it or not, has a primal meaning, even in a world as divorced as ours from its roots and from the land.

In his short essay “Fireside Wisdom,” the uncategorisable John Michell suggested that the “displacement of the hearth or fireplace” from the home was one of the many reasons for the craziness of the modern world which his life had been spent playfully exploring. The fireplace at the centre of the home, he wrote, was both an ancient practicality and a device of “cosmological significance” across cultures and time: “Conversation is directed into the fire while dreams and images are drawn out of it.”

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.