The potential column fodder is rich this month—candidates and the election, Kaci Hickox and Ebola. But when those stories fade, what remains relevant is the wood stove, and even more importantly, the wood pile.

I grew up in central Maine, a little no-man’s-land between Farmington and Augusta. My father, a Jewish guy from Southern California, and my mother, who was from the slightly closer realm of Connecticut, raised my sisters and I in a farmhouse they restored over several decades.

Although we had radiators, the wood stove was the focal point of our winters. My father, who never in his palm tree-festooned youth could have imagined his adulthood, split and stacked cord after cord of wood. My mother helped extensively, and my first sentence is reported to have been “Courtney help Daddy with wood.”

We had a small enameled Jøtul stove in the sunroom, but the playroom, where we spent most of our time, boasted a giant Vermont Castings, elevated on a brick hearth like an altar. In deep winter the kids and pets lounged in front of its dry warmth. We called it “going to the beach.”

I spent nine cold, lonely years without wood heat. But North Haven Sustainable Housing, in its infinite wisdom, designed our home around a hearth and chimney. Now, every fall, I get to perform my walking meditation, stacking wood.

I am a fan of repetitive finite tasks—a bag of potatoes to peel, running a half-marathon, and shaping dozens of bagels hold similar appeal. I am seldom more at peace than when I’m walking from the pile of wood Bill’s split to the pallets awaiting their crosshatched stack. It engages my spatial sense, involves some minor strategizing, and has a tangible benefit, a home kept above 70 degrees without involving fossil fuels. I write a lot of songs stacking wood.

I started this year’s wood pile in late October. We’d gotten a huge pile of wood from friends who selectively cut on the property they care take, and Bill and a buddy had taken down several fallen trees on our land. Bill had started splitting a few days before, and now it was my turn.

I put the baby in her car seat under a birch sapling, still covered in small yellow leaves, where she quickly drifted off for a nap. The dog and one of the cats explored the mossy undergrowth behind the pallets. I lined up the first row of logs, length-wise against the horizontal slats of the pallet. I chose with care, flat splits of similar length. I built up, stacking perpendicularly.

The chaos of the split pile shrank and the order of the stacked wood grew. A bird sang the first four notes of “O Fortuna.” I stepped carefully through brown raspberry canes to reach more logs. The dog chewed a piece of spruce bark. Despite the cool moisture in the air, I grew warm and took off my hooded sweatshirt.

My arms grew sticky with pitch and covered in small scratches. One wool sock slipped down into my rubber boot. My stack grew, covering three pallets and growing three layers high before the baby woke up and needed to eat.

I’ve already smelled a few chimneys puffing away this fall, and we’ve even had one fire in our elegant Vermont Castings stove, raised up on its slate altar. All over the island we ask each other “So, do you have your wood in yet?” and tarp-covered stacks are sprouting up in most yards.

A wood pile is security, is warmth, is reassurance that even in the bitter cold our living rooms will be welcoming. A wood pile is the promise of dinners together in the pitch black early evenings of January, when the restaurants are closed and all we have is each other.

Courtney Naliboff lives, mothers, teaches, sings and writes on North Haven.