Before the snow came, I burned rotten, misshapen wood. Dirty wood, not even worth cutting up for the woodstove. Wood filled with unremovable, wayward screws. Such fires are my last resort.
Enduring the scorn of my carpenters, I save every scrap of wood—wood that was once a seed that grew into a tree that was felled, milled, planed, dried, sawn, hammered, and then, in this case, tossed aside as remnant. I am a gatherer of remnants. I restore things. But there’s a limit, and sometimes, fire is the answer. It burned ferocious and unfettered.
Evening came, the fire died down. I went in to watch gratuitous violence on TV and eat fish wrapped in freezer-burned tortillas. Long after dark, I looked out the upstairs window. Of course, the flames were gone, but to my consternation, the embers were visible. The air was still, but I know well the nature of wind—it can blow up sudden and savage. Not long ago, our neighbor’s smoldering garbage nearly burned our house down. My fire wasn’t dead enough.
Boots, flashlight, rake, shovel, I trudged across the uneven ground to assess the cinders. Things were hotter than I’d thought they’d be. I found a long hose and hooked it up to the hydrant. Water hit and hissed. I put the hose down and stirred the steaming mound. Embers, given a last gasp of air, burst into flame. I let them burn themselves down, down, down, littering the night with airborne sparks. Hose at hand, I admired the blaze for a while. Then I broke the fire apart. Flame fell back to glowing embers. I raked a perfect circle of pulsating orange heat and stared into the hypnotic beauty.
The circle glowed vibrant and seductive. I imagined screams of agony, should I walk across these coals, or sink down through the intense heat to the inverse world below. The vision was potent enough that I turned the hose on full force. Fire, water, earth, and air. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It took a while, but finally, I could put my hands anywhere in the gray soup. It was over.
I walked slowly back to the house, a somber carbon-based lifeform, caught in the trappings of a long-dead Deity. I glanced up. Dark sky came to life. My eyes adjusted to billions of stars, mirroring my true, living image back to me. Minuscule. Vulnerable and magnificent. Stardust, spit, and ash. Ragged, weary, incomplete.
I knew I would be what was left after the fire. And I wasn’t afraid. I tucked myself into the womb of the ever-birthing, ever-blazing God.