one-match fire

Once again, I didn’t intend for so much time to pass between posts, but life happens, I guess. I am sad to say that for the entire month of November, I did not make a single visit to my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. And looking at the calendar for December (with family coming and holidays and obligations and such), I saw few weekends when I could visit then. So when the first weekend of December opened, I took the chance and we went to the cabin for an overnight.

The Saturday started with us driving west forty miles to my son’s house to watch little Emmett while his mom and dad strung Christmas lights on their house. He’s a sweet and busy boy and he kept us busy while they were busy. But that ended mid-morning and we returned home to pack the truck for our trip one hundred miles southeast to Roundrock. The dogs are always eager to jump in the truck, and most of the time they are going someplace nice: the park or the cabin or just a drive. Sometimes, though, they are going to “camp” where we leave them for days at a time. They’d recently gone to camp when we went to Seattle for Thanksgiving, but they seemed to have forgotten that trauma when it came time to jump in for Roundrock.

And so off we went. Arriving later in the day, and with sunset maddeningly early, my only agenda item was to burn the wooden parts of an old compost bin that had been rotting in our backyard for decades. You can see some of it in the photo above, at the top, to the left of the flames.

So once we were unpacked and the cabin was thoroughly checked for mice (none found, nor any sign), I began work on my one-match fire and soon, successfully, had it going. We were running out of daylight quickly, and we still had burgers to cook, so instead of throwing the bin bits on the fire, I put on some oak I had cut and split during the summer. I’d hoped it had seasoned enuf to burn fast and make coals. The white oak did better than the blackjack oak, but once we had some glowing embers (and the falling sun), we moved them under the grill and dropped the burgers on. I spent a lot of time fanning these embers to keep them hot, even rousing a flame now and then. (The constant heat of coals is better than the variable heat of flames for cooking.) Longer than perhaps necessary, we finally called the burgers cooked, and Libby slipped them onto waiting buns, prepared with Swiss cheese, pickles, and hot mustard. We devoured those, with the help of the dogs, and then it was time to burn the bin.

I had four panels to burn, and each was a larger dimension than the fire ring. So I simply laid the first atop the fire, letting it overlap the blocks until it burned enuf for me to push it all in.

The bin had been made by my neighbor and used in his yard for years. (In fact, a walnut tree had sprouted in it one year, thriving in the rich soil, and I dug it up — with permission — and planted it in my pine plantation. It’s thriving there now.) My neighbor did not do things half way. This bin was solid, and though I was able to separate the four walls, I did not want to break them down any farther. Hence my overlapping plan.

The first panel took its time getting ignited, but once it did, it burned bright, hot, and quick. The flames were taller than I am, and I began to wonder how recently it had rained in my little forest. The fire was contained in the ring, and I had been careful to rake away all of the leaves within a dozen feet of it, but even so, I worried that this big thing could somehow get out of control. That didn’t stop me from putting on a second panel a little while later. It did the same, burning slowly then quickly. I did decide after two, however, that that would be all for the evening. I could probably have burned the other two, but with the darkness having fallen, and me being exhausted anyway, I didn’t think it was prudent. So they wait for my next visit.

In retrospect, I probably should not have burned these panels. The wood had been treated to prevent rot — and that worked for a long time — so burning them likely released all kinds of toxins into the atmosphere. That’s also why we didn’t use their coals for cooking our food.

We did other things in our woods last weekend, including a hike and the usual general upkeep needed for a neglected cabin, but maybe I’ll tell you about that in another post.

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