I haven’t had a decent fire here in well over a year or so. Irma knocked down a few trees, the microburst that hit back in March of 17 had already felled its share of stuff, and time, always time, pushes things to the ground and the earth absorbs them. There’s much more of former trees than the earth can take right now and the path around the property is crowded. There’s two piles, one of which is just plain too damn big. There’s another pile close to the house were a tree fell during Irma that I cut into pieces with an axe. This stuff has to go and I feel a yearn, a yearn to burn.
The big pile, in any other year or any other time, would have gone up like a missile full of tequila and rocket fuel but this is the year of ice and cold. It’s twenty-five when I light the fire, and even the fire seems intimidated. This brush pile is full of ice and left over snow, and it’s more cold than wet, but the ice will melt. The fire begins small, as most do, and I never use gasoline or anything like that. Fires are like making love; you should always begin with a little heat, and allow the flesh to desire more, and out in this stuff, my flesh does indeed desire more heat, and the fire desires something it can build upon.
It takes a while, and my hands are curled up and shaking from the effort. The fire burns a hole in the pile but the pile, cold soaked after a week of below freezing weather, refuses the advances of the flame. Small stuff catches and more small stuff catches and like a lover who has on too many clothes to protect her from the cold, the fire finally begins to produce a bed of coals for the fire to build from, and the first layer of clothes comes off, slowly, but gratefully.
Now, once there is heat, real heat, the pile begins to melt and smolder. I start dragging some of the stuff over from September, and one branch had a lot of leaves on it, browned and shriveled. I put these on the pile and the fire licks around the leaves then inside of them, and my first real large flame leaps into the frigid air, banishing the cold, and adding a burst of fuel to the fire. The lover arches her back and helps push her jeans off and away. The fire has caught and now anything and everything will burn, and burn hotly.
I had forgotten how much hard work is involved in dragging stuff into the fire. I pull, tug, chop, drag, throw it all on the now wonderful fire, and everything goes up in flame, devoured and brightly burning. The warmth is incredible. Lilith is a fire dog and she sits beside the fire and dozes. This is warmth that goes down to the bones and relieves the icy grip of the snow and ice. I can feel the heat through my clothes and my jacket comes off. I go back to the pile beside the house and feel cold again, but once a large limb had been dragged back and tossed into the flames, I’m enveloped by warmth, real warmth, and even at sunrise the cold cannot hold back the warmth of the flames.
Is it any wonder that fire was our first step toward civilization? A group of people might stand around such a fire and marvel at the heat and the beautiful light and never question that this is magic.
As the day grows warmer, comparatively, the wind picks up slightly, and I take a break. I’ve been working nonstop for four hours and I’m not sweating. My hands are shaking, but not from cold. I’m wearing out, and I know it, but this feels so good. It’s getting time to quit, and suddenly a tree leans over and rests on another tree. Right there in front of me. The tree that is acting as a support has a fork near the top and it’s caught the dead tree at an angle. The support tree has a sizable rotted spot on the trunk so it is not long for this earth. But the way everything is leaning, with the dead tree caught at an odd angle, and weight of the dead tree pushing back at the support, where will all of this land when the support is cut? It has to go. I cannot wait for it to land on the dogs on its own, or me.
I’m still better with an axe than most people I’ve met. I cut a nice wide and even place in the support tree and work my way around it, careful not to put myself in the path of the tree if it should fall. When I start going deep, I make sure it’s all even, so the axe doesn’t get bound. But finally, I have to have an escape route. When this thing goes, I’m hiding behind another tree, and when it goes, I better be moving. There is a loud crack as the support begins to go and I back away. I hit the cut hard with the axe, drop it, and run as I hear the death of the tree. I lean again my escape tree as I hear the wreckage behind me fall and a piece of the dead tree as large as a German Shepherd flies through the air as a third tree is taken down by the falling mess.
It’s time to quit for the day.
The fire is dying as the sun goes down. Pieces of trees that held up thousands of pounds of wood and thousands of leaves have turned into ash, blown easily by the wind. I am more tired than I have been for a very long time, but inside of me, is the memory of fire, and of warmth, and I have needed this.