The evenings have turned cool of late. The open windows of late summer and early fall are giving way to half opened portals in anticipation of chilling blasts roaring down from the Canada, with high temperatures soaring into the forties. Stoking up the wood burning stove to take the chill off a house becomes a pleasurable exercise. Fire’s fascination is always 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 into a wind-driven blast another; one time a benevolent servant, another moment an unpredictable fiend who demands respect.
Starting a fire is an art. Some can do it; others are better off turning up a thermostat on the living room wall. 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 to the flame. Then it is time to add small branches moving from finger, to wrist, to forearm proportion. With persistence and a little more time, split logs can then be added to 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.
I have always had some difficulty getting larger pieces of birch or oak to sit properly inside the steel chamber of a wood burner. For awhile I would grab the ends of the logs and maneuver them into more suitable positions. Occasionally I would lose my grip, and burn the tops of my hands or wrists by accidentally brushing the fire box. Some large gloves, the type used in steel mills, have all but eliminated this branding.
Respecting the condition of the wood one uses is essential. One time camping near Mackinac Island in fog bound conditions, I used what is technically called an “accelerant” to stimulate a campfire’s growth. The wood we were trying to burn was extremely damp. Fortunately for me and the rest of my family, the Coleman Lantern fuel I used, while creating a small mushroom cloud, didn’t even sear my beard.
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 yearly holds another fascination. We protect the one year old from the danger of the single flame on the birthday cake. As we get older we run out of space on the frosted surface and protect ourselves from life’s inevitable progress by using candles that represent decades rather than single years.
Fire has utility and fascination for us. It keeps us alive and warm when nature turns things cool, and reminds us that like the brief flickering of the birthday candle, we best do our living before the flame burns out.