Where the Hearth Is

Where the hearth is

One of my fondest memories from childhood is that of making fires in our living room fireplace. My dad would get a big fire going at the drop of a hat, and we would burn all sorts of wood in there: old fence boards, scrap lumber, logs from felled trees, and even trash. Yes, as weird as it might sound, my dad often used the fireplace as a sort of homebrew incinerator and it was not uncommon on a cold day to find the wood in our fireplace augmented by discarded papers, used plastic bottles, or anything else that might otherwise find its way to the landfill. I think this tendency came from the days when my family used to live in Minnesota where, as I understand, it was fairly common for residents to dispose of trash by burning it in their yard. Or maybe it was just my dad. Either way, when I was a kid I figured this sort of thing was normal. Then again, my family also rode unicycles in parades so I might not have had the most typical childhood :)

When my wife and I bought our house nearly eight years ago I was delighted that we found one with a fireplace and for a while both of us enjoyed burning fires during many cold, and even not-so-cold, days throughout the winter months. Once we had kids we kind of got out of the habit because they required a lot more of our attention, and the last few winters here haven’t really been cold enough to warrant a blazing fire. A few days maybe, but the times when we had an opportunity to make a fire never really lined up with days that were cold enough to do so.

It was with almost giddy excitement, then, that on a chilly morning in January 2017 after a fresh snowfall which resulted in OSU and all public schools being closed I rushed outside to gather a big load of wood from out back and make a big ol’ fire just like we used to. I started it in the morning and we kept it fed throughout the day, and my boys (ages 5 and 3) were thrilled at the prospect of having the fireplace lit up all day. In what might have been a bit of longing for my own homeland of central Minnesota, my wife and I got out all their snow-based storybooks and huddled up by the fire to read about snowmen, sledding, and a perennial favorite, a hedgehog who ends up wearing a hat.

This being Oklahoma the show and cold weather did not last long and the next day temps were in the mid-30’s, and the day after that one would be hard-pressed to find any evidence that it had snowed at all. To capture a bit of the day I took this shot after the kids were in bed with my D750, 50mm lens, and a tripod. I shot it at f/5.6 to get the image nice and sharp while getting a bit of background blur, and used a 10-second exposure to get some flames and sparks too. This was one of about ten shots I took and while some had more flames and others more sparks, I liked the cozy feelingĀ of this particular photo the best. I’m not sure when another day will come around that we can build a fire, but I’m glad we had the chance to do it and my kiddos got to help out a little bit too. Who knows…maybe one day they will get to do the same thing in houses of their own. Just hopefully with wood and not trash :)


  1. Firstly, what a wonderful and heart warming story. I have tried to take a shot like this many times, with no success. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction on the camera settings. Would you consider these to be a starting point for taking this type of low light picture?

    • That’s a great question, Skip! I’d highly recommend a setup like this if you want to experiment with low light long exposure photography since it is a very controlled environment. You’re indoors with a static subject so you can just play around with manual settings as long as you like. I’d say give it a try!

  2. Thanks Simon.

    I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, which had even less of a reason for a fireplace burning, but my parents still would light up the fireplace in our family room when ever it got “chilly.” I remember that warm glow, which your photo illustrates very well. Perhaps, it wasn’t the glowing fire as much as the family time together that made the memory.

    PS-When I was a child, burning our trash was the only way we had to get rid of it (60 years ago).

    • Always nice to meet a fellow trash burner, Dennis! And to be honest I didn’t know people in Phoenix even had fireplaces. Shows you how much I need to get out more, I guess :) You’re right about that warm glow in that there’s just something about it, even if it’s not exactly super cold outside, that creates such a singular sense of comfort you can’t get any way else. Thanks for your comment, and for teaching me something new too!

  3. This is a nice warm photo to open up on a rainy day here in Cincinnati. I can appreciate your memories of fireplaces from your childhood home. Through the cold blizzard years of 1978-79, my father shut off seldom used rooms in our house and we supplemented the heat in our house by burning fires in the more formal living room. A cozy fire brings a special kind of warmth, inside and out. In our current house, it is a winter treat to start a fire and have a “family movie night” with our daughter.
    Your 10 second exposure gives just the right amount of ambient light to this photo. At that shutter speed, I would expect it to be brighter. Just the right mount of sparks and flame are captured.

    • Isn’t it interesting how we can conjure up images of blizzards from our childhoods, Rebecca? I distinctly remember times when we were shut in our house due to overwhelming snowstorms when I was a kid, and in times like these there was always a roaring fire going just like what you described during 1989-79. I’m picturing your whole family huddled in the living room with heat from the fireplace, and it just makes me feel warm and cozy all over :) Thank you for sharing those special memories!

  4. Ah, I don’t know which is best, the photo of the fire or the story that goes along with it.

    • The only thing this photo is missing is a long-haired Hippie from Havelock sitting on a tree stump playing some tunes on his guitar…

Speak Your Mind