I used to be very afraid of fire.
It’s a reasonable thing, I think – being afraid of fire. I mean, think about how much a sunburn can hurt, and consider that the ball of fire that caused that burn is about a trillion-and-a-half football fields away. It stands to reason, then, that a fire that is substantially closer would cause substantially more harm.
To this day, I refuse to run my hand over top of a candle or fully extinguish a wick by licking my fingers and pinching it. I am physically incapable of using lighter. And I have never in my life built a camp fire or started a barbecue, for fear that I will somehow cause an explosion. In fact, I have never filled up a gas can for the same reason.
But then we bought a house with a wood furnace. As in, if we want to be warm, we must willingly build a fire inside our house and make it as big and as hot as possible and then harness its intense, flesh-burning heat.
That sounds terrible.
Well, maybe a little bit awesome. But mostly terrible.
For the longest time, the task was solely on my husband’s shoulders. He builds fires and barbecues meat and fills up gas cans without worrying too much about exploding, so it seemed like a natural fit. If it got cold and we wanted it to be not cold, he went downstairs, built a huge fire, and my only involvement was to tell him, “Good job.” I liked it that way.
Sometimes, he left the house, at which point, if I still wanted to be warm, I went down, opened the door to the furnace, and tossed in a couple logs on the still-burning fire from a distance. There was no way my hands were going inside that thing.
It happened a few times that the fire went out before I could refuel it. No problem, that’s what our electric back-up is for! I flicked a switch and then we could still be warm and everything was good.
Except that’s not what our electric back-up is for.
It’s not to be used all willy-nilly.
I had to learn how to build a fire.
With Mr. B’s encouragement, I went down to the basement one day determined to build a fire. He gave me basic instructions about the size and type of wood to use and the ratio of wood to paper and how to arrange it all. It took a lot of time and patience and tears, and eventually, I gave up. The next time I decided to try, I was resolved that I would definitely be successful this time. But I still wasn’t.
I don’t know how long it took, but I finally got a fire to keep burning.
And then I failed another few times, and had another success, and so on, until slowly, my success rate began eclipsing my failure rate. Now, I’m at the point where I don’t even have to think about it, really. Stack a few tamarack here, grab some birch bark, toss on a few bigger logs, and I’m on my way. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a fire that didn’t take.
And now, an interjection; when I told my husband I was writing about starting a fire, he asked me if it was a metaphor for something. And if it was, this is the point where I would write about the life lesson that I learned alongside learning to build a fire – having a fire in my belly or having my doubts go up in flames or something.
But this isn’t a metaphor. This is just talking about building a fire.
Because I still stand way back from the furnace whenever possible. I still won’t wave my hand over top of a candle or fully extinguish a wick by licking my fingers and pinching it. I still cannot use a lighter – yes, I understand how it’s done, I just can’t do it. And if I can avoid it, I will probably never build a camp fire or start a barbecue or fill up a gas can.
It’s still scary, just not quite as scary. But I don’t really want to try – I have no effort left in me. You might go so far as to say that I am burned out.