Saturday, December 10, 2011

It Only Takes a Spark

by Kerry Schafer

There was this song we used to sing around the campfire. Well, technically, we sang a lot of songs around the campfire. Including Kumbayah. Hush - it was lovely and magical and there were boys -

Anyway, this particular song, sung around the campfire and in other places as well, began with this line:

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going."

Now, I'll admit that these words do seem to hold true for forest fires and grease fires and a huge array of disasters natural and unnatural. Apparently one random spark can indeed set a whole forest on fire. But it's a different song in the case where you do actually want to start a fire. I don't know if you've ever wondered about this, but it's a conundrum that frequently occupies my mind.

Maybe this is because we own a wood stove, and we use said wood stove to supplement the electric heat in my house. So, in the chill of the pre-caffeinated pre-dawn, while I am strategically placing dry kindling in a stove optimally designed for the encouragement of fire, and watching one spark after another totally fail to get anything going at all, I think about things.

I think about the way we only burn candles when somebody is watching to make sure they don't somehow tip over and light the counter on fire. I think about the way we keep blankets away from the heat registers and towels away from the space heater in the bathroom. I think about how careful we are with fires built outside, lest they accidentally set dry grass or trees on fire. I think about fire stations and fire engines and firemen, and the huge conflagrations that nobody wanted and somebody has to try to stop.

And then I look again at the fire that has failed to burn, despite kindling and coaxing and blowing and muttering and liberal additions of newspaper, and I wonder about the ironies of life.

Some things are fated. That's the only answer I can come up with, but not the end of the matter at all. Because here's the thing - if I keep on trying, sooner or later I will succeed in lighting a fire in the stove, as long as I've got dry wood and matches and maybe a little bit of paper. I guess my meandering point is that life is like starting fires.

Sometimes, while we are busy working our asses off to accomplish something, that very thing just happens for somebody else. Like magic, it seems. Precious little effort on their part. The right timing of people and events and "poof." Fire. Meanwhile, we've got a little heap of shavings and a string and a stick. Maybe a match or two, if we're lucky. It's hard not to be discouraged in these circumstances. Jealous, even. It's tempting to give up and curl into a ball under the blankets and just be cold and miserable.

Of course, if you do curl up into a ball and lie there, it's very probable that somebody else's magical wonderful fire will turn into a fire storm and blaze right over top of you and burn you to a crisp.

It seems to me that it's best to keep an eye out for random fires heading in your direction, but keep most of your focus on your own little heap of fire and wood and kindling. Maybe refine your fire building skills. Invest in some fire starter. Make some shavings. And maybe even sing a silly song or two while you're at it. I'm not sure why, but it seems to be helpful.


  1. Yep. Invest in fire starter, like those four-hour burn logs. 'Cause sometimes whatever I've drug in from the wood pile isn't fit to be burned.

  2. I'm singing along with you, Kerry.

    I think it also helps to realize that some things come easy for me--things I take for granted while I struggle to become better at other things. It's all a balance. Even those who seem so far ahead of us struggle with something. Everyone does.

  3. Wise perspective, Johanna - I agree!

  4. "Fire. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh. He said fire." Sorry, momentary Beav 'n' Butt there.

    1. OMG, we had THAT stove at the Folk's place in Kansas!. Yeah ok, millions of people have had that stove. Still, I was impressed.

    2. "Sometimes ya gotta hold yer mouth right" - My Dad.

    3. Loved the part about "if you curl up in a ball and lie there - burn you to a crisp" That is just SUCH a Kerry kinda thing to say(and true, which is part of it being a Kerry thing to say).

    4. What Johanna said.

    Thanks for this. Happy weekend.

  5. KAK - my wood pile has lovely dry seasoned wood in it. Had a bad experience with one of those fire logs once, lol. Story for another day.

    Johanna and Jeffe - For sure - everybody has a balance of easy and hard. Kinda hard to remember that sometimes, though.

    John - I think that's the secret - how you hold your mouth. I'll start researching.