A Good Night to Burn
As the sun set and the air cooled, the wind stopped. A rainstorm was coming. I could burn tonight and the rain would cancel any remains of the fire. I had cleared brush, cut down a few small trees that were growing too close together and collected wind-fallen branches to get them out of the way of the mower. This work is my exercise, much cheaper than a gym and more interesting than repetitive exercises. I have enough to do that will last me the rest of my life, even if I live to be a hundred!
I had invited some friends to share the fire with their children to make the evening more interesting, and they did. While there was still daylight, I invited the children to hunt for bones in the recently burned meadows. The grass had been burned a few weeks before to remove the dead grass from last year so only new grass will be present for mowing this year.
The boys delighted in finding bones, most were leg bones, some ribs and a jaw, with teeth. They were trophies of the hunt!
The bones were the remains of a deer killed by unknown causes, but not atypical, just part of the natural cycle of life. The number of deer had risen over my lifetime. When I was a child the sighting of a deer was extremely rare. Now there are small herds all throughout the neighborhood and many people have had the experience of hitting a deer. I have, my son has; it is now a fairly common occurrence. Drivers have had to become much more cautious.
Live animals were also exciting. One large, flat rock I had picked up to move, only to find a nest of baby snakes underneath. I quickly replaced the rock in hopes that I had not disturbed the snakes or crushed any in replacing the rock. I asked the children what they thought might be living under the rock and they had no clue. When I raised the rock, they squalled and jumped in surprise. I was able to catch one of the snakes and held it so they could touch it, but none wanted to do that. The experience must have given them courage though, they went on to catch their own wild life.
There is a creek at the bottom of the hill and playing in the water led to seeing the small frogs out early in the spring. Tiny jumping frogs were too much of a temptation to resist. Eventually one of the children managed to catch one of the frogs, which had to be brought to the adults to see. Unexpectedly, the only way the frog could be seen was to open the hands holding it, and the frog, desperate to escape, jumped! That led to a merry chase, which the frog eventually lost. The children, though, were persuaded to return the frog to the creek where it had the water it needed to survive and live. The children understood the reasonableness of that, and returned it home.
I started the fire and when it had burned down, we began to cook food: sausages, hot dogs, peppers in a variety of colors and, finally, marshmallows for dessert. Instead of the traditional graham crackers and chocolate bars, we used chocolate coated cookies!
Periodically, as the fire died down, I would add more burnables from another pile. The most exciting were cedar trees whose resin is flammable. They grow like weeds, so there were many to cut and burn. The fire would blaze up, exciting the children. As a treat, I would let them, one at a time, throw another small tree on the fire. One said it was as exciting as fireworks on the Forth of July.
As the night wore on, I added the contents of at least eight piles I had gathered in as many places I had cleared nearby. This was all done in darkness.
I am eager to see what the area looks like when I return again in daylight, to see the newly cleared spaces as truly empty.
Duane L. Herrmann is a survivor who writes so that he can breathe and prefers to be out in the country under the trees with a breeze. And he likes to burn!