Sunday, April 19, 2009

Burning Desire

The sky was blue, the breeze was light, the air was slightly chill, the sun was warm, and the burning permit was magnetted to the front of the refrigerator. I poured myself a cup of very strong coffee, took a sip, put the cup down and picked up the phone.

I identified myself and my residence to the emergency center to keep from being surprised by a visit from the volunteer fire department.

Burning brush always worries me. My backyard isn't large enough to provide the prescribed distance from the house. If I gave it the full distance I'd have to put it under the white pine up against the neighbor's fence (which would do neither the tree nor the fence any good). So I try to strike a happy medium. (Whack! That should stop your giggling Madame Zaza.) I set the fire at the midpoint between the back porch and the trees and I keep it small.

There is already a pile of brush, dead twigs, dry weeds, branches snapped off the trees by last winter's snow. My wife is raking and rummaging through the gardens for more stuff to throw on the fire. I keep telling her that we're not supposed to burn leaves ... and she keeps ignoring me.

A crumpled ball of last week's town newspaper provides the initial boost that the fire needs and soon the pile is crackling and popping away. I use a metal-tined leaf rake to control it, cruelly suppressing its desire to eat a tree or a neighbor's house. The garden hose drools nearby.

When I turn around there are four large trashcans full of leaves and dry weeds waiting behind me.

"Honey ... " I start to say to her back as she disappears into the garage. Ah well. I know what I have to do. A couple of large twiggy branches have been left off the fire for just this purpose.

When the first leap of flame has subsided, I dump one of the cans onto fire and cover it with one of the branches. I spray a little water to dampen the happy jumping of flames, pull the branch off again, dump on the second can and cover and dampen.

An hour later when I feel that it's safe, I'll do the third and fourth cans.

By noon the fire is not as volatile and nervewracking so I feel comfortable watching it from the kitchen window as I make myself a peanut butter sandwich on pumpernickle and another cup of coffee. I drag a chair over near the smoldering garden debris put my cup down on the grass and balance the plate with the sandwich on my knees.

In mid-afternoon all I need to do is occasionally rake unburned pinecones and twigs to the active part of the embers. My wife comes and sits on the grass next to my chair. We discuss taxes, and plans for the future. We talk about when I will rent the rototiller and what we'll plant. We talk about getting me a pair of sandals ... when a shadow moves across us.

"Look up," she says. I do.

No more than 40 feet above me a hawk slowly circles and figure-eights. I see that it moves over the area of the fire to get a boost from the updraft. The sun is shining through its feathers. It circles again and drifts on the wind past the pine and then it is gone.

At four o'clock my daughter, her husband and my youngest granddaughter come back from a walk. I douse the fire as the spread a blanket nearby. My granddaughter, still in the stroller, chortles and claps her hands as the embers turn the water from the hose into hissing geysers.

We're having potato leek soup for dinner. I'm hungry.

Damn that hawk was beautiful.