Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Little House On The Prairie Fire

"Ya think it's too windy to burn?" I asked Jess before he fired up his professional grade Snapper "haymaker" to do the front.

"It's pretty windy. Try to keep it small."

So I sprayed one small portion of the burn pile he, Al and I had amassed the day before, which I had added significantly to this morning, a pile probably 5 feet high of combustible trash, with lighter fluid, and lit it.

It was controlled enough, and I fed it very gradually from around the sides, careful not to get too much burning at the same time. And I was having a very pleasant afternoon of it, thinking of my dad and I burning leaves in the Fall. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday in west-central Ohio.

But then when I shifted the old door that was burning well from an obtuse to an acute angle, that's when things changed fast.

The middle of the pile kind of exploded, and immediately the entire pile was roaring. And then it got bigger. Soon, the unmown and thatchy edges of the burn pile were catching. And not long after, with help from a wind out of the southwest, an army of flames were headed north-by-northeast, invading ultimately my new neighbor's harvested corn field.

I ran all around the fire; it must've been 800 degrees at least. I tried to keep it from spreading, but the more I pounded on the burning edges with my rake and my shoe, the more it seemed almost to get stronger.

Meanwhile, Jess saw what was happening, and he steered his mower around to cut the spreading fire by mowing the thatch between the burning pit and the spread. After he'd done so many times, his mower caught on fire, and he had to stop to put it out.

Oh. Did I mention that we hadn't got the well-house pump working, so we didn't have any running water?

Just to keep from having a massive panic attack, I played Bach fugues in my head.

"Just let it burn itself out," he said calmly. "The wind will change, and the fire will run out of fuel when it hits the new growth. Just keep it out of the corn field."

Which we did. And it did burn itself out.

"Man, Jess, I'm so sorry about your mower."
"It's fine. It's just a belt. It was due for service anyway. Sit down and rest, and drink your water."

I did. Then I looked down at the scorched earth, sullen, and said, "Well, this isn't exactly the beginning I had in mind. Not very auspicious, is it?"
"It's a great beginning. It's a spectacular beginning. What it shouldn't be is a terrible ending."
"You make a good point. If this is some kind of cosmic test of my resolve, I'm not giving up. Thanks."
"In a month all you'll notice is all the new growth coming up from where it burned. No big deal. I won't tell Al or Jane; they'll never know."
"You can tell 'em. I don't mind."

Then Jess, eyes squinting to look across the southeast corner of the adjoining property that holds a decent stand of trees in a wetland area with a small creek, which I'm gonna try to buy as well, and because we were both obviously thinking of him, inadvertently channeled our dad and said, "You know, come to think of it, it just might be too windy to burn after all."

We both just laughed. And he did tell Al. And Jane.

What is this? Am I home? Again? I didn't think we could go home again. Maybe we can? My stomach hurts. I think I'm gonna throw up. Again.


Schmutzie said...

"Honey, the new neighbors are here."

"Oh good."

"They're mowing the cornfield."


"Well, they started it on fire first."


"And their lawn mower...."

Hey, it's like Nuke LaLouche said "I wanna announce my presence with authority!"

Schmutzie said...

Knock knock knock...


"Hi, I'm your new neighbor. Could I perhaps borrow a cup of sugar?"

"Oh sure, and it's nice to meet you."

"Same here....and uh, do you have a fire extinguisher by any chance?"

(sorry, but this post made me laugh my ass off)

switters said...

In hindsight, I suppose it may have been more appropriate to just bake them some chocolate chip cookies. Or kill and dress an entire deer.

But Pasture Fire 2010! just seems a little too "living out loud".

Schmutzie said...

It's one of those memories that you'll cherish forever dude!

It's fuckin' awesome.

switters said...

Memories? Yeah, I'll have the third degree burn scars to remind of that afternoon. But you're right. I'll never forget it, in the best sense. My dad was laughing the whole time, I assure you.

topazz said...

sheesh. Isn't Jess the brother who has the kindle???

bright said...

Ya know, when I set the mower on fire, I was 14. (And then I never had to cut the grass again.)

Keifus said...

For that matter, is Jess the same brother who helped build your ill-fated porch? How is it that that story was depressing as hell to read, and this one felt like a better beginning? Door closing vs. door opening (and burning!), or something along those lines.

(Sometimes it disappoints me that life seems to have such a small palette of experiences, even though the context can alter the meaning of them so drastically. Other times it bugs me that life's far too diverse to maintain the illusion of symmetry.)

Cindy said...

Oh joy! This is pure joy (hindsight kind of joy of course)!

Glad everyone is okay. Go throw up.

Then drink some more water.

You're doing great!

switters said...

No, topazz, the irony of Jess being a huge fan of the Kindle was not lost on us. Ouch.

bright, there's something very unsettling about seeing your oldest brother atop a lawn mower that's on fire. I was almost compelled to shoot at it.

Keif, the very same brother who built my deck (which is now 52 tomato cages) and redid one of my bedrooms into a library. How does the saying go? When God closes a door, he sets a window on fire? Something like that. That doesn't sound right. I got home Monday evening and I felt... weird. This living in 2 worlds is getting to be exhausting. I.e., your second paragraph is awfully profound, and it makes me sad, but in a way I think I can deal with. So thanks.

Cindy, had a lot of anxiety Saturday night after Jess and Al left, and some more Sunday night. But I'm heading back up there Memorial Day Weekend, and I'm taking Moonpie, the surviving dog. Should be interesting. She'll love it. No fences.

tia said...

I believe it's "When God opens a window it's because the door is on fire."

I am delighted your return to Ohio provided an instant classic M----- Brothers Moment. I am equally delighted that you, Jesse and most of the mower survived to tell Al the tale, who will provide generations of the family bellylaughs at your expense. Awesome.

Moonpie's gonna love it. Remember to track her down the night before you leave.

bright said...

Also, may I be the first to suggest this title for your upcoming memoir:

"A Prairie Fire Companion."

switters said...

I have to admit, tia, there were definite moments when it felt like old times, especially the trip to Home Depot where Al and I tried in vain to keep up with Jess. But yeah, it's what our dad's sons do: burn stuff. Isn't that the Queen's last line in Shakespeare In Love? "How all stories end: with tears and a journey; and something burning." I'm paraphrasing.

bright, as long as we're jumping on the NPR/PRI/APM bandwagons, I would also consider All Things Considered Burning, and Wait Wait Don't Set Me On Fire.

Isonomist said...

Did I mention I was trained in forest fire fighting in Ohio, and my Columbus sister is a certified in it? Next time give one of us a call. We like digging firelines.

Schmutzie said...

I just came back to read it again. I don't know if I ever mentioned it, but I work on homes for a living. You can't believe the number of "How are we still alive?" stories I could tell you. But that's the human condition isn't it? (the good part I mean)

It's still funny, and I'm still happy for you Switters, ...the new neighbor.

I don't want posts like this, I need posts like this.

switters said...

Iso, at one point, Jess was within the ring of fire, raking the thatch back into the flames to cut them off, and I was coming behind him to stomp them out. You should know that as I type the phrase "Jess was within the ring of fire" I am amused to no end. You should also know that the entire weekend I was waiting for mom and dad to come wandering around the corner, walking the property, and it makes me very sad. But maybe they were.

Smutty, don't take this the wrong way, but I've come to have a great deal of affection for you, like the big brother I never had, except for my big brothers. I guess, then, just thanks. Stick around.

Keifus said...

I told my kids at some point (probably playing the song on Rock Band) that the song "Ring of Fire" was actually about Johnny Cash's terrible bout with hemorrhoids.

Or maybe I said it on the way to pick up my "parent of the year" award. I forget now.

switters said...

Well, Keif, I suppose it's no coincidence that, when we ordered the extra spicy salsa, Al mentioned that we might want to stock up on the Tucks Medicated Pads.

Cindy said...

I'm with Schmutzie on this -- I don't want posts like this, I need them!!

More later, after a wickedly difficult funeral I'll be attending. It's good to see life on the other side of all the hard parts.

switters said...

I'm truly sorry to hear that, Cindy. I meant to tell you that I started with 92 seedlings and I'm already down to about 2 dozen, maybe. Perhaps it's for the best since I'll be spending several long weekends up north and won't necessarily give the plants the attention they need. We'll see.

Cindy said...

I only have six tomatoes planted. I can't seem to grow them, and it gets depressing to see them bloom, sprout and die all within too short of a span.

I can do lettuce, it is thriving. And our carrot crop this year is unbelievable!

I finished my labyrinth today. It is rather calming. It also has no fences.

Peace. Hope you're finding some.

switters said...

you seem like a good soul, cindy. peace? this is as close as i get.

catnapping said...

el oh el. you shur know how to make an impression!

i'm laughing so hard, i'm cackling. i stopped for a minute, but as soon as i got that picture back in my head, it started all over again.

i hope you find bandwidth soon.

i haven't been following anyone's blogs, so i didn't realize till a few minutes ago that you're actually leaving the fray. and i am assuming it's because you won't have time and/or you won't have running internet.

i'm excited for you. you've begun the first episodes of a great dramatic comedy.