Balance. I’ve been thinking a lot about balance over the past week or two. This particular assessment of finding balance happens for me every year about this time, through most of October and early November, and then again through April and into May. Assessing balance is an on-going challenge, of course: the balance between work and leisure, between competing demands on time, between cost and benefit, even between the comfort of going unmasked and the wisdom of keeping them on. But the balance question I contemplate in these transitional seasons is more concrete. It has to do with wood heat.
I heat my home with wood most of the time – I revert to electric only when I’m gone for several days. My east-facing walls are mostly all glass, which means the rooms warm nicely from the sun. But when the seasons are shifting, heating becomes a balancing act. A wood fire simply burns: one can’t set a thermostat. So, if it’s chilly in the early morning and I build a fire but then the sun adds a lot of warmth, it can be uncomfortably hot by mid-morning. Or sunshine may be pouring in, so I decide that will be sufficient – but then a cold wind starts to blow and despite my good insulation, the inside temperature plummets. If I’m leaving for some church’s town early Saturday morning, is it worth the wood and the effort to keep a fire going Friday night, or should I just huddle under the covers? And then there’s the question of the wood itself: if I’ve let the wood box get too empty and the house is feeling chilly, is it worth trudging out to get more wood, or can I get by with a heavier sweater? In another few weeks, I’ll keep the fire going whenever I’m home, and the routine of keeping the wood box filled regularly will be well-established once again. But for now, it’s a dance of monitoring my schedule, checking (and re-checking) the forecasts, watching the clouds, listening for the wind, noticing how much sun is (or isn’t) pouring in, and trying to balance it all out so my rooms are warm but not stuffy or chilly, and so I’m actually benefitting from the woodstove and not heating unused space. It’s a question of balance.
And all of this can be thrown off by unknowns, of course. The day when the forecast said it would be warm but it’s really pretty chilly, or when the heavy cloud cover clears despite what the forecast said. Rain often makes my home feel chillier than what the temperature indicates, but how much rain will there actually be? The questions are different in summer, of course: then it’s a matter of shifting plants out of windows so they don’t get too much sun which means they’re no longer where I’ll automatically remember to water them. All of this is actually one of the things I really appreciate about living out here in the hinterlands: I do have to keep some connection to the weather, and how well I do or don’t read it affects my comfort directly. I like that connection.
All of this reminds me of the complexity of finding balance in life, of how many factors there are to consider and how many there are that can affect our lives that we had no way of predicting. A driving snow that manages to get in under the overhang in February so that suddenly, my wood pile is covered with snow so I can’t just grab the wood needed to refill the wood box: I have to adjust! In larger life, the furnace that stops working, the family members that surprise you with a visit unexpectedly, the project that arises and requires time away from the other things you need to do, the bad cold or broken bone (or pandemic) that upends life for a while. So much of life is about finding balance and maintaining it, given that life is full of so many variables and so many unpredictabilities. We can plan carefully – many of us are adjusting plans and budgets and rhythms to accommodate the coming holidays, for example – but always we know our careful plans may be upended. Bobbie Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” And he’s correct.
Finding balance. And continuing to find balance – it’s not one of those things you can find once and be one with it. Balance requires constant vigilance and reassessment and adaptation, as life unfolds. It is a dance, indeed.
Shalom and Salaam,