Wednesday, December 4, 2019

NEW IN TOWN: Where There's Smoke...

I like fire.

If you've lived in a city all your life, chances are you haven't developed the skills necessary to create a really good bonfire.  So when I say I like fire, I mean in theory.  One of the first things on my agenda when I moved to Wellington County was to learn the art of the bonfire.  I'd read about Burn Permits. They sounded impressive and responsible, and I decided I should acquire one.

I learned there were rules that must be followed.  I studied those rules so hard, I could have written a doctoral dissertation on the subject.  I drove to nearby Hillsburgh with the application and the fee.  They took my money, stamped the form, and did not ask me one single question about the responsibilities of a Burn Permit holder.  They did point out that the rules were printed on the reverse side of the Permit, in case I forgot any of them. What the rules didn't say was how to build a fire.  I wanted to become adept at fire starting before any of my city friends came to visit, so I picked up a few handfuls of dry twigs on my property, put them on the outdoor fire pit, lit a wooden match and held it up to a twig.  Nothing happened.  I tried again.  Same result.

I tried lighting two matches at once. Nothing.  I began to worry that there was something wrong with the twigs, so I looked around for other things to burn.  Pine cones?  Surely they'd burn well.  I quickly realized I was going through wooden matches at an alarming rate, trying to light pine cones.  It just wasn't working.  I tried crumpled newspaper, but the wooden matches extinguished themselves before the paper ignited.  I was getting desperate.  I remembered my butane torch.  I'd once used it to great effect, toasting the tops of crème brûlée desserts at a city dinner party.  My friends still speak of that dinner party with awe.

I went inside and came out with the torch.  It's the deluxe model, the self-lighting kind.  I should have that fire going in no time, I reasoned.  I unscrewed the butane release, pressed the ignition button, and - nothing.  It seems I had used up all the fuel showing off my crème brûlée skills.  I confess I contemplated throwing some gasoline and a full box of wooden matches on the fire.  But it would mean siphoning gas out of my motorcycle's fuel tank, and that seemed to go against the noble traditions of the Burn Permit.  I reviewed the rules.  

You may not light an outdoor fire if the wind is faster than 10 km/hr. How do you determine wind speed? I couldn't even tell in which direction it was blowing. It seemed like random little gusts from all sides. I recalled having seen a disposable cigarette lighter in the garden shed. I've often seen smokers hunched over, trying to shield the tip of their cigarette long enough to light it. I tried to act as a human shield as I applied the cigarette lighter to a sheet of crumpled newsprint, and to my surprise it caught fire. I fed the flame with more paper. First the pinecones and then the twigs caught fire. A twig, paper and pinecone fire burns hot, but it does not burn for long. I was throwing pinecones on as fast as I could collect them. Each flared brightly as the fire began to consume it, and with every pinecone I felt more and more like an expert fire starter. I ran around collecting more twigs. I knew it was against the rules to leave a fire unattended, so I kept my eye on the fire at all times. By the time I had a small armload of twigs, I was out of breath and smoke was stinging my eyes. I decided to drop the bundle of twigs on the fire from above. I positioned myself close to the fire pit, leaned over and released the bunch of twigs directly onto the dwindling flames. At that precise moment, the wind shifted direction.

I smelled at first. If you've ever smelled burning hair, you don't forget it. I couldn't go inside to look in the mirror because the rules said never to leave a bonfire unattended.

I went to my hairdresser. She looked at the blackened frizzy patch on top of my head. "What happened?" she asked.

"I was making crème brûlée", I replied.

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