Building My Own Fire

It’s taken me a long time, but I can now build my own fires.

creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp
creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp
creative commons photo by Matthias Ripp

When I was a young professional, just a few years out of college, I checked into what seemed at the time an impossibly swanky lodge during a work trip. We each had our own cabins (mine was larger than my basement apartment at the time), complete with a fireplace. A real fireplace.

I was 26, and I had never built a fire.

After two failed attempts, using up all the kindling supplied, I flagged down a passing worker who started a fire for me. I’m sure he got a good laugh out of that, though I’m guessing he isn’t still thinking of that evening nearly two decades later.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

In 2013, I began a long process of pivoting from the direction in which I had been going for years – of shifting the earth around me so I could really move.

I was 41, and I had never built a fire.

I had been living in a shiny new house with a gas fireplace, lit with the flick of a switch. I had settled into a life that, at one time, suited me partly because it coddled me. I don’t know when exactly I stopped needing the coddling, but by the time I noticed it was too late. There was nothing for it but to move.

In 2015, I began the process of settling into a new life – one with a 100-year-old house that has no insulation, a dirt-floor basement, and fragile plumbing and wiring that both could use updates.

And a real fireplace.

I am 43, and I can now build fires.

I begin with the easy stuff, the paper, and work my way up to the hard stuff, coaxing little wisps of flame on the edges of newsprint into the crackles and pops that tell me it’s going to take. I crouch in front of the stove’s open mouth, blowing steady streams of oxygen to resuscitate flagging coals when I’ve neglected them for too long. I pull on work gloves and haul wood in the rusted wheelbarrow from the shed out back to restock the wood pile on the porch.

I can keep my fires burning all day long, until the gorgeous coals glow with a bright orange light that shifts and moves like the fire itself.

Like me.

I am 43, and I have built my own fire.

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