Once upon a time, I was a pyromaniac.
Like most small children, my cousins and I loved us some camp fires. And, it’s true, our “camp site” may have been mere feet from my house — but, under the canopy of trees, amidst all the night-time noises, wielding our sticks topped with blackened marshmallows like weapons, eyes ablaze with the reds and oranges of the camp fire — it didn’t matter. We were rebels, living off the land. (Even if we did walk back to the house in pairs to pee in the middle of the night.)
Before dusk fell over “camp,” the adults would send the kids off to collect kindling for the fire. We’d all return to the pit with fat branches and heavy logs, eager to light up our inferno. My dad would explain that kindling is the small stuff: Twigs. Dry leaves. Little, crackly branches. The small stuff. That’s what gets the fire going.
I imagine it’s difficult to explain to a child that the little things make the big things happen. I mean, fuck, it’s a hard sell for most adults. Even today, when I throw my giant, proverbial logs onto the fire with fervor, the flames burn low.
As I gear up for a trip to my childhood summer home, I find myself thinking about all the lessons I learned as a kid. How do we get back there? How do we relearn what we completely missed while we were too busy having fun? My skin still itches for that childlike freedom to run, escape, rule, revel, save, and sleep…for days.
I want my life to be this big-ass, rip-roaring fire. Yet, here I am, stumbling with the big logs, when it’s become apparent — I need kindling — and lots of it.
While today’s twigs and leaves are a far cry from the ones I found pawing around in the dirt, it is still life’s simple, even childish, pleasures I covet. Sleeping in til’ 10AM. Hugging my cat after a good cry. Banana ice cream — for breakfast. Aimless walks. Reading library books in the bath tub. Two-hour phone conversations with my cousin (and fellow-former-pyro). Gardening on the stoop in my ugly jeans. This. My writing.
It’s uncomplicated. It’s almost too easy. I think that’s how we miss it. Kindling may be the the simple stuff, but, it’s scattered. It hides on the forest floor, so, you gotta get on your knees. You have to forage. You have to make sure it’s good ‘n’ combustible. Because, once you’ve laid the foundation, twig-by-twig, all you need is the match. That crack-then-hiss of sulfur and sand paper — BOOM — Fire.
I can still feel her, that little-girl-Sarah, ploughing through the woods. No fear. No hesitation. Her knees in the dirt. Her hands in the earth, gathering it all up. Every. last. dry. crackly. bit. Her uninhibited, childlike desperation was a gift I would not understand until it was long gone.
It occurs to me that I know her heart far better now than I ever did back then. I know things beyond her capacity. I’ve seen too much. Yet, I still understand her unapologetic, wild heart because — we share it.
We, the girl and the woman, are still in hot pursuit — Kindling. Matches. FIRE.
Light that shit up.