Primal instinct compels us all. Food. Shelter. Water. Fire. The last of these is a true joy of living in the country. Our local fire department allows burn piles when the air is calm and two adults can watch them. And when we’re tired of the detail work of building or harvesting berries, a good burn pile is the only cure. Having spent weeks piling brush and dead branches into a tucked-away corner of land down by the pond, it’s time to light the match.
It’s fun to watch—we bring down camp chairs, water and sandwiches, and settle in for the day. When he’s not raking the bed of coals back into the fire, or cutting down dead limbs nearby, or stoking a lazy blaze with the leaf blower, Michael sits and watches. “It’s a guy thing,” he says, when I ask why he loves these days so much. Dirty, mindless and purposeful. Primal, even.
The last time we burned a big pile, Owen, now 5 1/2, worked with his dad. Michael had raked a small pile of coals over to the side of the dwindling fire. Owen fetched sticks and fallen branches all around him and added them to his pile before raking the coals toward the center. And, when he got hot, he took off his shirt and sat in a camp chair beside his dad. At one point, he sat still for a while, mesmerized by the flames like I remember doing as a child. Then the words came to him: “Mama, the fire climbs up the sticks like the scarlet runner beans twirl up their teepee.”
“You’re so right,” I told him, rubbing his warm back. “It is a beautiful thing.”