Saturday, January 19, 2008

pick a fire goddess

Or, it’s either fuel or spark

I don’t understand it, but it tickles me. My husband cannot get a fire to burn.

This man can make any combustion engine run, no matter how shitty filthy broken down it is. He’s from Cali, not where you’d expect your talented self taught shade tree mechanic to come from, but his stepdad’s people was from West Virginia, so maybe that’s where he gets it. He’s saved us a fortune on cars and lawnmowers. Literally. One time he and my brother (two anti-man’s men if you ever saw any) were talking about our broken lawnmower, and he said the profound words, ‘Well, it’s either fuel or spark.’


In our wonderful Brady Bunch house (not really, just from the same era) we have a real fireplace.

I love it so much, although I am a bit scared of it cause I don’t know when the chimney was last cleaned and everyone knows the creosote builds up and eventually catches and burns your house down. And then there’s the carbon monoxide, of course–

Anyway. We had a huge dead tree in the yard when we moved in, and as men do, a little over a year ago my husband and about eight of his friends congregated to scratch themselves and take it down with chainsaws, rope, and beer. I was too frightened to be home that day. When I did muster the courage to come home the tree was just a pile in the grass. The house and fence appeared undamaged, and there were no head wounds or severed limbs to be seen, praise Jesus.

I should have known when I caught him attempting to throw away all these long pieces of bark. It was a huge amount of huge dry pieces of bark, and (I’m guessing) he thought it was useless because it wasn’t big smooth manly logs. Sigh.

STOP DUDE! I said. Why? he said. That’s kindlin,’ man! I said. I didn’t say, what the hell are you thinking, don’t you know how to build a f*ckin far? Okay, maybe I did say that, but quietly, so as not to embarass him in front of his dude friends. He gave me this look like I’m some kind of idiot and we boxed up the bark and saved it for months and months. (And I was picking bits out of the lawn for months and months, too, cause apparently if a chainsaw don’t cut it men don’t pick it up, and someone had to get it up in order to mow our jungle).

He took some of the big smooth manly logs camping with him– part II of the saga which started with scratching, chainsaws, rope and beer. No burns or severed limbs from that trip, either, unless there’s something he isn’t telling me. There was plenty, plenty more wood from that old tree, and we stacked it in the carport for the winter.

Last winter it seemed like it just never was the right time. This winter, part III, we’ve used it constantly since Thanksgiving, any time it was even a bit cold.

So, since I didn’t take the hint at the time of the manly tree topplin’, I let him build the first fire of the season this year. My stepson looked on. And it wouldn’t catch. I said, let mamma help.

Next fire of the season, I heard him telling my step son– want me to show you how to build a fire?

I couldn’t resist. I do have a competitive streak, which my stepson finds reasonably funny (at least I think he does). Not just that– but he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. I can’t let my boy go down like that. I said, don’t you think I should be teaching him how to build a fire? He (husband, not stepson) flipped me off and kept working. I can’t remember how that one worked out– not very well, I don’t think.

I love that fireplace so much, I took to cleaning the ashes out each morning after and laying a proper fire, so that it would be ready when I wanted it. I had a lovely dancing fire one night when my girlfriend came over for supper. I had a lovely dancing fire the night my husband left to go out of town for a work trip. My baby and I built and lit it together and curled up on the couch with blankets and watched The Secret Garden (1993) for the first of, um, like five times so far.

So one night this week baby was begging, can we set the fire? Can we set the fire? (Do I have a l’il pyro on my hands?)

Baby and daddy got to work. About ten minutes later it wasn’t working out. The frustration filled the whole downstairs. Or was that smoke?

I said, do you need help? He said, f*ck you, I mean, yes, I do.

Okay, you cook, I’ll start the fire. Off he went.

Later, I tried to explain it to him. It’s either fuel or spark, I said, just like the lawnmower. Then I thought about for a minute, cause he had spark and plenty of fuel.

Oh, fuel, spark, and, you know, air? I think that’s what you’re missing.

He loads that fire place UP. It’s so chock full of wood the fire cain’t breathe. The nice biguns. And how ’bout we clean out the ashes once in a while?

My fires are a tender, patient bricolage. First there’s a loose pile of bark. No, first there’s removal of ashes. Then there’s a loose pile of bark. Then some slim branches, then some slim logs. Then the coup de grace– a few balls of newspaper under the iron thingy that holds up the firewood, the touch of a lighter, and a dancing fire emerges in a minute or two. Then and only then do I throw on the big manly logs.

My fires burn fast and hot. But at least they burn!

Tonight I got a beautiful fire going with wet wood. Yes, wet. It has rained for a day or two and the woodpile is getting low and soaked. And with a little love I got that bitch going beautifully. I loved sitting there next to it, watching it steam and slowly catch.

I said, a couple of times, to be sure he heard me, did you know I’m the fire goddess? I made sure to tell the baby again when I had her to myself, too.

Pick a goddess, any goddess. Let’s see, there’s the outcast Pele, with her foul temper. I see that in myself, definitely. There’s Maman Brigitte, known for her hard work and cursing and drinking, could be me, and Li the lucid middle daughter, could also be me. Good so far. Izpapalotl seems to be resurfacing from the collective unconscious via graphic novel and other current art.

And I’ve always thought of St Bridgid as the patron saint of hospitality, always there for folks to come and be warmed and fed and comforted, and her kindness to stray dogs is spot on, but it appears fire was her special familiar. The stories are frightening if one thinks of them occurring now… but they resonate most for me.

I don’t know. There’s something precious and nurturing in building and enjoying a lovely fire. It’s evidently not the easy common sense I thought it was. My husband’s a bit of a star, in some ways (some more playground and some more to do with grownup skills and extremely accomplished in a world that completely leaves me behind), especially lately with his new job, and it’s comforting to me to know how to do something so basic, so, well, competent.

I think I need to invent my own goddess. Lord knows I’ve done enough studying of what qualities, destructive, freeing and healing, chaotic and nurturing, I have and want in my life. And what with reading Shirley McClaine’s Out on a Limb, I’m all ready to go review all the Biblical references to aliens assisting the tribes in the form of fiery wheels and burning bushes.

It’ll have to be another post, though.