“Fire in the hole!” yelled the foreman. We held our breaths until we felt the deep thud of exploding dynamite, then cowered as dirt, rocks, and bits of trees filled the air above the blast site ultimately showering us in debris. Another 20 feet of trench created in the bedrock; another 20 feet closer to completing excavation work for the utility line.
That experience from my twenties when I was a superintendent on a large apartment project in Austin comes back to life whenever I think of “fire.” During that summer we used a staggering amount of TNT to blast through the Austin limestone, thus creating utility ditches throughout the 30-acre project. Most of the explosions were muffled by the dense rock formation, but occasionally blasting a fragmented, less-dense section would treat us to an amazing shower of rubble and entire trees.
Fire also brings to mind the most basic of early human needs. Man’s survival often required learning how to start and use fire. Consider the occasional tragic mishaps that must have occurred as man learned what “combustible” would later mean by erroneously building fires in heavily wooded areas, or the pain endured from too-close fingers, hair, or toes. No doubt such lessons were rarely forgotten.
As a word, fire appears in our communications in unique ways: the last word a captured counter-revolutionist in some South American country wants to hear, or a past-tense word that ends the hopes and dreams of a departing employee. Fire is truly an intense word, one that rarely carries a positive meaning or message. And yet, what romantic would be displeased to enjoy the company of the opposite sex in front of a roaring fire in some wilderness lodge or cabin? It’s hard to think this use of “fire” is not without some positive advantages!
Chicago winters during my high school years gave me plenty of opportunities to build some great fires in our generous fireplace. On those frosty days I’d get to work building a fire as soon as I got home from school. During those years I learned by trial and error the art of building a lasting fire, a real grate-bender blaze that would last well into the night, leaving a few glowing embers for the morning ashes.
I’ve never lost my love of sitting in front of a well-built fire (and I build damn fine – and hot – fires) while enjoying a good book, or watching the well-behaved flames lick the logs until there’s nothing left. My desire to live where there’s a true seasonal climate probably has roots in my enjoyment of fireplace fires. My apartment has a fireplace, but in Texas there’s little reason to build a fire unless you turn the air conditioning down low and get a good frost on everything inside. We do get coldish winters, but so infrequent as to make a fireplace…well, silly. I realize living where you need a fireplace typically comes accompanied by several feet of snow for months beyond patience, but that’s okay. Give me a cord of seasoned wood, a couple boxes of kindling, a flue that draws well, a pile of books, and it’s “call me in the spring.” Better yet, don’t call me; I’ll call you. I might still be tending the fire when you call, and I wouldn’t want to interrupt something that important.