By all (archaeological) accounts Early Man, once he had discovered it, was very good at starting and maintaining a fire. Fire was essential to humankind’s survival – it provided warmth and cooked food, and was eventually harnessed as a partner in tool making, producing sturdy pottery vessels and metal implements. Fire was good and Early Man must have been a big fan.
Since we rely on fire (in a wood stove) to heat the house, we are also big fans. But Early Man has it all over me and I am rapidly developing an insecurity complex about my ability to keep my family warm. The fires I start are essentially non-starters! They have no drive, I’m ashamed to say. No ambition to become a source of warmth, much less a conflagration. Never out of control, they are shy and retiring little things who despite my best effort at fire CPR fade and die within minutes of being brought to life. Never mind that I hover at their side, feeding them tender morsels of newspaper and twigs, blowing the breath of life over their little sparks, and exhorting them in my best firm parental tone to take light!
The newspaper catches and burns merrily (the CVS brochure in beautiful turquoise flames – probably terribly toxic but very pretty), then the twigs flare up giving me hope that combined they will provide enough of a blaze to catch the small logs. But they don’t. The small logs blacken but don’t burn. I squat in front of the stove watching as the paper turns to gray ash, littering the bottom of the stove in fragile heaps. The twigs crumple, the middle burned through, the ends left unscathed. A few embers glow amongst the ash and I hasten to crumple more paper and lay more twigs upon them, and blow and blow until they light.
I sometimes go through three or four of these cycles before I give up, add another sweater to my layers and retreat to the kitchen. There I turn on the oven to 400 degrees and toss in some big potatoes to bake. I turn on the stove and put on a big pot of water to boil for soup. I fill the sink with hot sudsy water and plunge my cold hands in and begin washing dishes. And the room warms up. And I savor my victory – this is the fire I control!