As I sit down to type this column, I am catching a break from the cold.

Winter really feels like it has set in now after an uncommon period around the new year in which temps creeped up to shorts and T-shirt weather. But now, it is here.

Want to know how I know? Because life happened. Our heating unit at home decided to die at approximately 10 p.m. last night. This morning, after taking my youngest to school and seeing my wife off to work, I went out to tackle the issue at hand.

It wasn’t good.

I had a code on the diagnostic that showed a pressure switch problem. I jumped the pressure switch to see if anything else was going on and then I got a flame rollout switch issue. Not having a meter with me, I jumped the flame rollout switch, and then it showed what the real issue was.

The heat exchanger was cracked. Well, cracked might not be the appropriate word for it, but there were several holes due to rust, which in turn caused the unit to build back pressure shoving burning gas out from where the burners are located, which burned the flame rollout switch and the pressure switch.

In other words, I either need a new unit or I need to replace the heat exchanger, neither of which is cheap.

So, while I decided whether to spend a lot of money or spend a lot more money, I built a fire in the fireplace. Knowing I needed to type this column, my mind naturally wondered about the days before gas packs and heat pumps and oil burning furnaces. Maybe even a tad further during my thought process, I actually felt for those that were dependent on fire in a much different time, before even the brick fireplaces or wood burning stoves.

How rough was it on them? Not only did they have to hunt and gather daily, they had to keep wood dry if it rained or there would be no fire or cooked food.

My son and several of his friends went on a camping trip in the Linville Gorge. He and one of his friends do this at least once each year, but a couple of others that don’t camp as often (actually never) went along as well.

The things the so-called newbies worried about were how to scare away a bear, how to keep refrigerated food cold on the hike and stay over, and if they had enough gas for the stove. Meanwhile, my son and his other friend were contemplating backpack weight, water filters, shelter, warmth and fire.

Most of the needed-to-be-refrigerated stuff stayed in the vehicle. And one of the others didn’t think to have a sleeping bag. Luckily my son had an extra one is his car.

Two knew what it would take to survive for several nights. Two only knew of comforts from home and wild animal attacks as seen in the movies. We have lost that connection with nature, the part where we truly respect it for it is merciless and harsh while also beautiful and touching.

And here, now, I am trying to put a plan together to survive through a cold week, even in my own home.

We have come a long way. We have also strayed a long way.

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