Smell of Smoke on a Winters Day by Walter Prichard Eaton


Winter Scene in New England

Smell of Smoke on a Winters Day by Walter Prichard Eaton

THE smell of invisible wood smoke, symbol of a fire dancing on the hearth—how many times that fragrance has smote my nostrils and made me pause with a clutch around the heart! We all live by symbols, I suppose, as, indeed, Christmas itself is but a symbol, far less of the birth of a Babe than of our own capacity to be generous and kind and loving toward our fellow men. But yet, during all the years I lived in town, and all the happy holidays I spent there, no symbol ever reached me to make me pause and thank God for my home, my happiness, as does the smell of wood smoke at winter twilight or the sight of a red window square over frosty fields. I do not say there can be no home and Christmas with steam heat and a wilted evergreen bought of the grocer; home, after all, is a state of mind. But for me, at least, an open fire is as essential to the beauty and comfort and homeliness of a dwelling as of a
camp. To what dim instincts this traces back, I
cannot say. My immediate ancestors cut their
own wood and heated their houses and cooked
their food by its blaze on the huge hearth. When,
at last, I left my steam radiator in New York to
rouse some other tenant from slumber by its
matutinal cannonadings and fled to the country,
to swing an ax in my forest, to feed my own hearths,
to snuggle to the blaze for warmth and watch it
for cheer, I had a strange sensation of having done
all this before, of repeating a well-known act, of
coming not into a strange house, a strange life, but
of coming back home. The ground-pine wreaths,
the shadowy tree, the dancing firelight of the first
Christmas of the return were almost like a dream,
as unreal yet familiar as the evergreens outside,
which were not pines or Norway spruces at all but
illustrations come to life from a certain Christmas
card of my boyhood, forgotten till that day.

Yet it isn't in any of these things that the deepest suggestion of Christmas lies. It is rather when I come from the woods on Christmas afternoon, across the snowy fields that are already stiffening up as the low sun sets till they creak under my snow-shoes, and draw near my own home when twilight is stealing down the eastern hills and hanging like a veil in my evergreens. Then I see, in the dark block of the house, two reddish gold squares of light, light that dances on the panes because the logs are snapping, the flames are wallowing up the chimney. I smell the smoke of them, a delicate fragrance on the cold winter air. Those golden window squares mean home, they mean not affluence, I am sure, nor yet poverty, but they are the result of wholesome struggle, which, I pray God, has harmed no other man. I should be less than human if I were not proud of them, if they did not make me warm with happiness, more tender toward the dear ones behind their shelter. But should I not be less than human, too, certainly less than Christian, if I did not confess that the true spirit of Christmas is the spirit which admits that some such a home is the right of every man who is born of woman, and which ardently desires each man to come into his birthright? I cannot see Christmas in any other way. I cannot approach my house behind its evergreens, coming out of the winter world into the fragrance of its open fires and the glow of its window squares, without a pang of passionate happiness, and in the shadow a stab of remorse. The winter world is so exquisite, so white, so purged and still and beautiful! A happy home is so wonderful a thing! And yet the Babe who was born in Bethlehem has sorrow in His eyes.
Green Trails and Upland Pastures
 By Walter Prichard Eaton