As I grew up in West Virginia, on a farm with both pasture and woods, it was not uncommon for us to gather brush (limbs and twigs) from beneath all of the trees. As our house was heated with wood, we would also cut down trees and all of the excess limbs would be stacked into huge brushpiles. We would save the brushpiles to burn after a good rainstorm or in the winter months when there was snow on the ground.
In my younger years, fire intrigued me; just as it continues to do for every child who has the opportunity to play with a brushpile. I would poke a long stick into the fire and pull it out to see the flame and smoke it created. We would often poke a spider web or a leaf to hear the sizzle of the heat as it burned whatever we touched. I would often see my dad sitting by the fire as it died down; he would just stare into the fire and I wondered where was his mind and what was he thinking about.
Many times after a long day of work, mom would grab some hot dogs and bread (we could not afford hot dog buns) and we would cook our hot dogs over the coals of the brushpile we had just burned. I do believe that is some of the best eating in the world – a scorched hot dog over glowing, red-hot coals. There were often times that we would even stay up very late to ensure that the fire burned completely down to a pile of just ashes.
My dad taught me how to build a proper brushpile to ensure that it would burn. We used matches and kindling to start the fire. Gasoline, kerosene, oil, and paper were considered cheating for anyone could start a fire that way. Even to this day I like to do it the old-fashioned way for it is more satisfying for sure. It might take a little longer but the fire does not smell of gasoline, kerosene, or oil when you do it the right way. Also, if you do not use paper then you do not have all of the paper flying up into the air to cause another fire that you did not intend to have.
Well, as I crossed over from teenager to adult, I began to realize how soothing it was to just sit next to a fire and discuss all of the world’s problems. You can really meditate about life and all that is going on when you stare and watching the flames dance in their own little party. The smell of wood smoke, the heat from the fire, and the dancing flames are mesmerizing to say the least. In fact, my dad and I had some of the greatest conversations that we ever had in life… sitting around a brushpile that we had set to fire. I do miss those times with my dad.
This past week I had the opportunity to go visit my mother. She had built four such brushpiles and asked if there was anyway before I left if I could help her burn them. Of course that was okay with me; however, due to local fire regulations we had to wait until after 5:00 p.m. On Thursday it was spitting rain and rather cool… a perfect day for fire building. I was transported back to my childhood days as we burned four brushpiles late into the evening. It was fabulous to be covered in that great, great smell – wood smoke!
By the way, in spite of my protests to start the fires the old-fashioned way, my mother insisted that we cheat. To honor my mother I complied with her request and therefore we used kerosene to start the fires. I still feel bad about this…