Monday, July 09, 2018

Smoke gets in my eyes

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I can not hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes
 --Smoke gets in your eyes
Fourth of July came and went and I didn't even light a sparkler. Oh, I helped my kids pull the strings on a few poppers that were hardly worth the effort. You pull the string and you hear a slight pop and some pitiful streamers shoot out on the lawn to be cleaned up the next morning. Nothing like the satisfying bang of a firecracker used to bring in my youth. Of course, the odds of losing a finger or two have gone down as well.

But I did build a fire in my outdoor portable fireplace that had been rusting in the backyard since last year. I used a wire brush and some flame resistant black spray paint to get rid of the rust in preparation for the Fourth. It has become a tradition to build a fire and roast marshmallows for smores on the Fourth while we wait for the fireworks to begin at an athletic field near our house.

The city allows those unsafe and insane fireworks because they are set off by professionals who know what they are doing. If I could just strategically cut down two of the neighbors trees, we'd have a pretty darned good view of the fireworks from our back deck. As it is, we can just make out the sky rockets over the tips of the trees.  But it beats fighting the hordes of people who go to the athletic field to get a close up look at the fireworks.

But back to the fire. Unlike the campfire at our recent camping adventure, I don't have bundles of expensive wood to stoke the fire. I use accumulated scrap lumber and tree branches that I've pruned over the years. This year's fire was fed by what was left of a grape arbor I'd torn down a few months ago. I couldn't use any of the recent cut alder wood because it was still too green to burn properly. Wood, like wine, needs to age.

Normally I am the one who starts and tends the fire. But my wife has begun insisting that I teach that skill to my children. Not that it is like I am teaching them to rub two sticks together to get fire. I show them how to open the recycle bin and pull out paper grocery bags, wad them up and then build a small tepee out of pieces of the grape arbor over the paper. The most difficult task is teaching them to override the childproof features of the lighter to ignite the paper bags.

As one can imagine, my children are less than enthusiastic about the skills of building a fire that I am teaching them. My son is more interested in when the next season of Fortnite is available on his Nintendo Switch. My daughter would rather be dressing her cat in a Wonder Woman costume than wadding up grocery sacks.

Neither of them are impressed by the three things I tell them you need to build a fire: fuel, heat and oxygen. Especially when they find it translates to paper sacks and broken bits of the grape arbor as the fuel, heat being the lighter and oxygen being provided by blowing on the flames. Regardless, in the future, I am confident either one could muddle their way through starting a fire as long as they have a lighter, paper and wood handy.

Tending a fire is another thing. I pride myself on knowing when to stoke a fire with more wood and when to stir it. It is a sixth sense of sorts versus something you can teach. I’m not saying I am a fire whisperer or anything like that, but I do know how to read a fire.

No one taught me how to read a fire. I just spent a lot of time growing up tending fires. One of my chores growing up was emptying waste paper baskets into a burning barrel in the backyard and burn it. This is not something we’d allow our kids to do even if it was environmentally sound or legal in this day and age.

We also had a Franklin wood burning stove growing up and I build many of a fire over the years burning scrap lumber from my fathers work shop. Ironically, we never had a fire pit or portable fire place growing up. We did go camping every year and I often tended the campfire on those trips.

So I don't know how much I can do or need to do to educate my children about when to throw wood on a fire. Nor can I teach them how to avoid the smoke from a fire that always seems to follow you as you move about the fire.  I can explain to them that the smoke simple reacts to the changes in air flow when a person or many people move around the fire.  My own solution is simple to sit in one place and let the smoke get in your eyes. It is the price you pay for playing with fire.

And how does my rambling explanation for how I learned to tend a fire related to a teaching moment for my children as is my fatherly duty? I simply turn to them and say, "You can lead a horse to fire, but you can't make it put wood on it."

But I suppose those aren't the pearls of wisdom I'm supposed to pass on.

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