It’s hard for me to be around fire and not sit mesmerized by the process. Fire is a verb not a noun and I am willing to bet it is the single most important external process that lifted human beings from the ranks of all the other animals into what they were. Writing was the next step in that process so it’s natural that I have fire and writing on my mind. But back to the fire…
The two massive logs will be the centerpiece for the fire but there are also a couple of other largish pieces from the limb that fell off the Oak. I had to cut that piece up into three sections because the limb was twisty and bent at angles. Each one of those pieces was all I could get into a wheelbarrow and on the evolutionary scale the wheelbarrow wasn’t a giant step but I am damn glad to have one. But even these three pieces, much smaller than the logs, won’t make a good fire at all. There has to be a lot of little stuff to start the fire with, you know.
A while back the top of a tree broke and fell. It landed on the tree next to it and all of this was far too large and far too high for me to play with at all. Nature took its course and both trees died. I had to pull the first off of the second before the corpse landed on the fence and therein lay the small pieces of wood. The wheelbarrow and I made a few trips back and forth, back and forth, and slowly I had enough small stuff to turn a flame into a fire.
I’ve watched people burn out a box of matches trying to light a piece of wood the size of a grown man’s arm and it never works. These same people will toss a gallon of gas on pile of logs trying to ignite them when all is need is patience and an understanding of fire itself. I stack a wheel barrow’s worth of twigs and leaves and tiny branches in the middle of the burn pit where all the big stuff is waiting.
One match. One tiny flame.
The fire at the tip of the match has a lifespan of just a few seconds. Clear, yellow, and tiny, the solid umbilical cord of the matchstick cannot support life but for a heartbeat, maybe three. I edge the flame towards some dry leaves on the end of a limb and suddenly there is smoke, the first sign of life, light, and the leaves crackle as the water in them turns to steam. The leaves wither quickly and the flame must claw its way up to where there is a tangled mass of Spanish Moss and twigs. It burrows hard and deep into the mass and a lesser Firesmith might think this the end of the flame and reach for the box of matches. There is smoke, smoke and no fire. But I hear tiny sounds inside, crackling and popping noises that tell me the flame is beginning to digest the dry moss. It emerges from this gray cocoon and now it wants sticks, not twigs. I have prepared a double handful of sticks and lay them on the fire. Like water through a sieve the flames pour upward and the sticks blacken while feeding the fire. More sticks and more small stuff are placed directly on the flame, nearly suffocating it, but there is heat now, not just fire, and that heat instantly dries and prepares the food for digestion. The fire breaks through once again and this time it wants to spread out and it takes its first awkward steps upward and outward.
It’s mythical that the doctor has to spank a newborn so the child will cry and therefore get its first breath but the process of fire can be defined as independent when it begins to breathe on its own. There is a noise, a buzz, a sound that a Firesmith can hear, when a fire begins to draw strength from the air around it. The draft of air propels the fire upward, spreads heat outward, and the fire curls and destroys smaller stuff at a small distance now, and it nibbles on the larger wood like Lillith. The fire is on its own and I can start dragging more stuff to it.
People gather at one site, pitch a few tents, and rest for a while. It’s a good spot to stay so they build a hut or two, till some land, and suddenly paths become well used and more people show up. The center of town becomes crowded and people spread out to the edges of the village and a town begins to be born. So it goes with a fire, too. The center becomes a chimney, almost, and the fire roars here. But it creeps along the edges of the firepit, back alleys and side streets but all contribute in some way to the fire. There is heat, real heat, hard heat, keep your distance, Firesmith, heat, in that center. The logs burn from underneath and the fire now roars. Anything I toss into the center is instantly transformed into flame. This fire is now something beyond my control. My puny little water hose cannot put this monster to grave. It will burn out on its own, get out and run free, or it will starve to death. The true test of my skill lies not only in bringing this thing to life but also how I control it when it cannot be. My defenses must be true. My firebreak must contain this thing. My plan must work or this one will walk away from me and then it will run.
The center of the fire burns away all but the biggest pieces and the fire begins to ebb. Like the moment after passion between two lovers the heat now is mostly underneath. It will smolder now and not burn. One of the logs is still in one long piece but there are red coals all along it. There will be very little left when the sun arises. I rake all the remains into the center and there is smoke but no real fire. The one big piece sends a few yellow fingers upward but they are just feeble attempts to rise from the ashy grave. The fire is done.