Ashes to Ashes

It was such an unusually cold February night that I lit a fire. I love fires. I love building them, sitting by them, and tending them. I’m a very fussy fire-tender, poking, rearranging or adding logs every ten minutes or so. I pride myself on never needing more than one match to get a blaze going, and a fire that goes out prematurely feels like a failed experiment. A good fire is the product of a healthy relationship between the wood. The logs must be close enough to share their heat and far enough apart to allow the oxygen needed to burn. The point is always the fire, of course, not the logs, and in a really good fire, where all the logs are burning, each log’s flame lighting and re-lighting all the others, you cannot tell what log is responsible for which tongue of flame.

Still, I can become sentimental about the wood. Whenever I add a fresh log and watch its bare white wood catch quickly and eagerly, that new log becomes the king in my imagination. I look at all the other logs beneath it, coal-black and pulsing red, and remember when they were young and white and fresh and seemed eager to burn. I watch as the old logs’ heat lights the new log, whose fresh flames in turn reignite the old logs, and I’m glad for the old logs that they still have fuel to burn.

I cannot become overly concerned about the individual logs, however, or I will lose sight of their purpose. Everything in my hearth is in service to the fire—the bricks of the fireplace, the iron grate, the poker and the prong—all the hard things I can touch and move are there only to allow for something that can be felt but not held, summoned but not made, and which alone can transfix us as completely as a work of art. The only memory fires leave behind is ash, which says no more about the truth of a fire than a shipwreck does an ocean. In this way the sadness of ashes is misleading, a trick of near-sightedness, as real as believing graveyards are the sum of all creation.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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