When he was out of sight, beyond the growing stack, I turned my attention to the sky, and the clouds that moved like migrating spirits, beyond the limits of the freshly trimmed horizon. It was as though they were compelled to escape from where nature had been cut back. I imagined their great shifting bodies of cumulus seeking to mirror a wilder terrain.
He returns and pushes the pitchfork hard into the ground. “Better light up,” he says. I’m excited because I know there’s going to be a blaze.
“Fetch up some little bits and pieces like this.” He holds his huge, calloused hand in front of me, a small replica stack of dry grass and tiny twigs sitting steadily in his palm.
I scouted around, eager to please. “This enough?”
“Lay it in that space I’ve left at the bottom of the stack.”
I did as instructed, and waited.
He took a cigarette paper from his waistcoat pocket, and crumpled it gently before placing it in the tinder I’d collected. Then, out came his lighter. He clutched it tightly and held my gaze for a moment or two, before handing it down, saying, “Remember, fire is a good servant, but a bad master.”
The lighter felt huge in my hand. I was suddenly conscious of being given enormous power, the power to make fire.
With the first snap, the wheel showered sparks onto the soaked wick. A weak flame wobbled behind the shield of my hand, as I moved it to ignite the small ball of paper. Signs of smoke bled from the stack, and I could see a long, searching tongue of flame reaching to consume its desiccated fare.
Lighting a fire was one thing, managing it, quite another. I was watching again. He used the pitchfork to move the stack around, keeping the flames somewhere near centre. It struck me odd that a fire needed to be constantly wrapped, but I knew, in reality, it needed to be constantly fed.
Eventually, the stack ate itself and shrunk into a grey disc of ash and defiant embers. The heat subsided and the cool of the late afternoon gained the upper hand in a soothing way.
I looked up, the clouds were long gone. Barely visible wisps of smoke sailed past my face and stung my eyes. He was putting his tools away and drawing a thick canvas sheet over them. Those stiff folds would be my seat for the short journey home. I was ready for my tea. I had made fire.
I was inspired to write this post after reading this piece by Kate Blinco in The Guardian, today.