Catch a Fire

I can see why the discovery of fire was such a watershed moment in the history of mankind.

Not only for its life-giving (or preserving) qualities – warmth, cooked meat, and protection from becoming raw meat are all good things – but for its mesmerizing abilities.

In the past few years, having moved to the country, built a fire pit, and acquired a wood stove, I’ve spent a lot of time staring into flames. There is a certain magic to the seemingly alive tongues of fire; the dance, the movement, the consumption of material, the production of charcoal, the transformation to ash.

It also teaches a lot of life lessons.

Building and maintaining a fire takes a lot of work. Steady attention. Checking in. One cannot get distracted or fully immersed in some other project. Until it’s rip-roaring, your job is the fire. You must focus. You must settle into that state of mind that allows you to do the task at hand and nothing else. It’s quite freeing, actually. Poking, prodding, turning, and nudging – worries, urges, outstanding obligations fall away in the tedious, tactile action.

As does the guilt that usually accompanies the exclusion of other tasks. While only focusing on one, this task is keeping your family, your house warm. It is providing a comfort, a safe haven – it’s even saving on fuel costs 😉

Maintaining a fire teaches other lessons as well that aren’t as easy or pleasurable to learn.

Like patience.

Sometimes you don’t need to throw another log on the fire; sometimes you need to shut the door and watch the roiling smoke. Watch until it produces enough heat on its own. Watch until the flames burst forth seemingly spontaneously – only they don’t. There’s lots of quiet build-up and warming-up that lead to it – all without your interference.

The agonizing part is knowing when these moments of holding back are needed. Will you lose the fire altogether if you mistake its need? Or will you squander the heat by opening the door and fiddling with it too much?

This give-and-take, this mental questioning seems like the opposite of the mindless joy in minding a fire I described above. But only if you let it be. Through practice, through trial and error, such decisions will come instinctually. And focusing on the fire is always better than obsessing over the machinations of your own life.

Sitting by the fire, the warmest, coziest spot in the house with a cup of tea, has become my favorite spot to be, thing to do (or not do) on these cold winter days. The voice in the back of my mind tries to tell me I’ve fallen into a pattern of leisure that is not good. But a louder, happier part of me thanks those prehistoric peoples who discovered the wisdom of the flames and learned from it.

Reflecting on fire

                Reflections of fire (Jennifer Butler Basile)

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  1. Little Mighty

     /  January 20, 2015

    Fan the fires of light and warmth, fan the fires of life. Wonderful blog.


    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  January 21, 2015

      There are a lot of parallels in keeping them both alive.

      Thank you!


  2. The present home I live in does not have a fireplace, but many of the homes I’ve lived in before have, and I miss that option of building a fire, and watching it come to life. Yes, there is something mesmerizing about watching the flames flicker and dance. And, yes, it does require patience and precision, and the ability to leave it alone when necessary.

    My version of flame-watching these days tends to be focused on the nature trails behind my home. An endless supply of squirrels and deer, and humans riding bikes or jogging along the trails. And the birds. So many different birds, all squawking and flapping and trying to remain invisible, even while demanding to be noticed.


    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  January 21, 2015

      ‘patience and precision’ – love that combination – and the admission that it also takes leaving it alone. Also love your phrase – ‘trying to remain invisible, even while demanding to be noticed’. Sounds like a lot of humans 😉

      Thanks for applying the benefits of ‘fire-watching’ to a broader base.



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