Evenings have turned cool of late. The open windows of late summer have given way to half-open portals in anticipation of chilled blasts from the Canadian provinces. Stoking the wood burner to take the chill off has become a pleasurable exercise. Fire’s fascination is with us.

The Cub Scout wienie roasts, family camping trips or picnics are usually a child’s first encounter with the power of an open flame. Fire is alive, flickering one instant, roaring the next, goaded by wind-driven blasts. One time a benevolent servant, another moment a fiend who demands respect.

Starting a fire is an art. Some can do it; others are better off turning up a thermostat. It requires patience and a willingness to start small with the knowledge that bigger and better things are to come. Small pieces of paper offer a good start with wood shavings a better alternative. Twigs stacked randomly or compulsively banked add more substance. Then it’s time to add small branches moving from finger, to wrist, to forearm proportion. With persistence and time, split logs fill out the flame’s potential.

A fireplace insert works well when you want to take the chill off on a cool morning. The stoves have quirks, but by not being terribly worried about efficiency, they will warm a major portion of a house when well stoked. Arranging larger pieces of birch or oak inside the chamber of a stove takes talent. Some grab the ends of logs and maneuver them into more suitable positions. If a grip is lost, burned hands or wrists ensue from an accidental brushing of the firebox. Large gloves, the type used in welding can eliminate branding.

Respecting the condition of the wood is essential. An “accelerant” used to stimulate a campfire’s growth has some efficacy if wood is damp. Coleman Lantern fuel (no petroleum product is ever recommended!) usually creates a small mushroom cloud without nuclear retaliation.

Fire that is used and contained for warmth is a benign force. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see how the power of forest fires destroys all before it.

Fire as we experience it holds another fascination. We protect the one year old from the danger of a single flame on a birthday cake. As we get older, we run out of space on the frosted surface and protect ourselves from life’s progress by using candles that represent decades rather than single years.

Fire has utility and allure for us. It keeps us alive and warm when nature turns things cool, and reminds us that like the brief flicker of the birthday candle, we best do our living before the flame burns out.

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