Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hack, Rake, Burn, Repeat

The fire is set before dawn but this isn’t going to be very much of a blaze.  This is land clearing, pure and simple, and I can either hack the mass of vines to death or I can burn them. There are three sizable Oaks in the middle of the island of vines and thicket. I have to be careful because there are some low hanging branches smothered with Spanish Moss. Many years ago I set fire to a branch of a dead Oak that had been laid low by moss. The moss went up in flames like it had been soaked in napalm and the flames very quickly climbed to other limbs that had moss on them, also.  The whole tree was engulfed in flames that lit up the sky and as a young teen I feared I would go to prison for the rest of my life. But I was lucky; the trees around the torched Oak were still green enough to resist the fire. Their leaves were browned somewhat but they all lived and no one ever discovered what I did.

In the dead of winter on a crisp clear night there might be little chance of a fire jumping from a dead Oak to a Live Oak, but on a day where there is triple digit heat there may well be some sort of disaster if this fire gets into the moss high above. I use a rake to get some of the moss down but the majority of it hangs onto the branch like a vast grey tick. I’ll have to be careful and hope this doesn’t end with a fire truck visiting the area.

Hack, rake, burn, repeat, and the morning begins to fade away a warm up. Most of the stuff I’m trying to get rid of is green so this is no massive fire at all. The wild grape vines which have created a canopy over the area get pulled down into the fire. The old dead limbs I’ve been tossing into this area for the last ten years burn slowly for most of them have turned into mush.  I clear enough area and rediscover the old stump of a wild cherry tree.

I remember taking that tree down the first month I was here. It had died and it looked like it might hit the house if left to its own devices. There is an art to tree dropping, and this one fell perfectly, down to the last inch, and I remember how happy I was that it fell so incredibly well.  There’s a photo somewhere of Bert standing with this two front feet on the fallen tree, as if he helped, and he’s only two years old in that photo.  Bert was good to have around when I was working in the yard. He liked being in the action but he never got in the way, once he figured out when he was. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for almost two months now.

Bert had a hammer for a voice and I miss that. I miss the fact he knew when to bark and what to bark at. He once laid it down when the oven caught on fire and Sam, poor confused Sam, went to the window and barked at nothing while Bert stayed in the kitchen trying to tell me there was a fire where it didn’t belong.  He was fearless in that way; Bert never questioned his own judgment when he came to security.  I wish I still had that photo of the puppy standing on top of the felled tree. That was my dog.

I dare not burn the stump for it might reach far into the ground. Such a fire might go to ground and not even so much as smoke until it woke up in the middle of the night and began to creep forward into the woods. I have seen that before. A friend of mine set fire to a stump and the fire followed a root out past the clear area and got wild into some planted pines. It was two days after the fire was supposed to be completely out and not a hint of smoke arose from the ashes and then suddenly there was a blaze. It took an entire day to contain the fire and nearly a hundred acres of trees were destroyed by the fire. No one could figure out where the fire had come from until they dug down and found the place where it had traveled. A fire underground can be the hardest to find, and nearly impossible to kill. The fires that plagued the great Okefenokee Swamp were fires that dug down deep into the peat moss of The Swamp and burned hot and smoky. It tunneled and nested and it did things people did not think fire could do or would do and it took a tropical storm to put it out.  I am fully aware of the danger in that stump but I would not burn it even if I could. There is a piece of my life in that stump. I was a much younger man and Bert was a puppy, and I did not foresee the day I would look at that stump and see Bert standing on a felled tree a decade hence.

The fire burns lazy and slow. It’s really three small fires and there is little danger it will escape, but as noon approaches I can feel the heat of the day building up.  It’s time to let the fire recede and return to the place where fire sleeps, always ready to spring forth and devour, unless you’ve got one match left at a cook out.  I’ve burned down to the ground, the moss scorched from the trees and the vines withered away with flame now. It is time to quit for the day and let the sun, a fire in and of itself, have the world.

Take Care,


  1. No, the firemen would not appreciate more practice on a triple digit day.

    1. I have a burn permit, always do, but there was this one time I let a fire get really, really, big and the wind picked up. I ran inside and called and got a permit, quick!