Two fires have escaped from me in the last ten years and of those two, only one really surprised me, and that one didn’t get far. Fire doesn’t surprise me very often because I don’t trust it. There isn’t any compelling reason to trust fire. Within a degree of certainty I can tell you what a dog will do, what a snake will do, what a tree cut with a chainsaw might do, and without doubt what water can do. But fire will fool you. Never turn your back on a fire because while you aren’t looking it can do thing you’d never think it would do, and unlike water, fire will move faster and quicker and get bigger without any sort of prompting other than having fuel, air, and heat. Water needs more water to be scary, but all fire needs is a head start. I do not aim to be giving it one.
If you’ve ever stood with your mouth hanging open without a clue what to do next, may I suggest you not build fires? Someone has very likely already done that, but I’m calm, and it is almost certain when someone sat you down and explained that the fire you built walked off from you and make its home somewhere unintended, well, that person might not have been calm, or nice. What is the worst that can happen? I plan for that. I know what it looks like when it happens. I love fire. I am in love with fire. But trust it?
There is prep work before any fire, and this one is different. I stopped burning a couple of years ago, because it was dry, and because I wanted to leave stuff around and let it return to the earth, but the stuff is piling up. I can’t get to the back of my property in a truck. There are two trees down, neither very large at all, but both stopping me from getting where I want to go, and there are, were, three piles of stuff waiting to do something. Stuff, in this case, is pieces and part of trees that have fallen, or had to be taken down, and all of it in various states of decay, except the one straight and tall Oak that had rotted at its base. I took it down in December, or January, and it’s nowhere near where I want it to be, but it did land hard enough to break it into three pieces.
I am not about to try to get all of the debris, and the tall tree, into the firepit, so I rake around the edges of what will be three fires; one big one and two smaller ones, with a connector between the two smaller fires. I set the big one first, because I want it to burn down. It’s a massive structure and one thing I didn’t realize is how far up it would burn. The upper branches of a tree sway and blacken, but I’m prepared for that too. My hose has a super nozzle on it that reaches the tree limbs so there will be no escape there for the fire. There are massive pieces of an Oak I took down last Summer in this fire and it was the last vestiges of a tree that Peg and I took down a few years ago. There is also the tall Oak to consider, and I think I can do this.
As a Hermit, I usually do thing like this by myself. I’ve learned my brain can lift more than two grown men not thinking about what they are doing. I use a log and fencepost pushed under the tree as rollers and push it into the fire. There is a massive block of wood I tip over onto an old gate with fenceposts under it used as rollers, and I tilt it over into the fire near the long piece of Oak. It’s nearly ten in the morning when I decide to stop putting stuff on the big fire and I start the smaller flames. One will burn quickly and the other, which is nearly mush from time, burns very slowly, which I like.
Sam sits nearby and watches. Sam knows that rats live under brush piles and Sam wants a rat. Lucas patrols endlessly, a mutt in motion, but Bert, poor Bert! Bert tries to hang out with us but as the day wears on the heat gets to him and he limps back to the porch. The quality of his life is declining. I call him back and hose him down, which he loves muchly, but it helps for only a short while. This may be Bert’s last Spring. I cannot let him become someone he was never meant to be for my sake alone.
I tend the fire by raking hot stuff into the fire, raking unburned stuff away from the fire, and hosing down the raked stuff to form a wet fire break. The tall piece of Oak has tunnels and burrow in it from beetles and smoke pours out of the openings, and then fire. I watch the fire snake its way into one opening and out of another. A buried tree branch I missed gives it a way out, but I knew something like that might happen and the fire doesn’t get far. The heat id oppressive for this time of year and the smoke is brutal. But the fire is a fire of magnitude, and I like it. The fire is so big I cannot get close to it for very long. My skin tightens and the hair on my arm disappears. But I cannot stay near to the fire as I once could. It drives me back and I have to retreat inside for water.
It is dark now, night has fallen and cool air flood into the house. The fire is a glowing ember, surrounded by a bank and covered with tin. I am thoroughly drained and exhausted, but it has been a good day, and it has been a good fire.