Smoke Mama

No matter where I sit next to a campfire, tendrils of smoke follow me.

I tore the flap off a cardboard box, folded it and placed it between two logs of wood. After placing several twigs above it and bigger branches above that, I ignited the cardboard. A small orange flame licked tentatively around the edges of the brown corrugated paper for several seconds before it completely became engulfed in eager, leaping flames. I glanced around. What would burn fast and quick to keep the fire going until the logs caught?

         Nearby, laid a pile of small scrub trees I’d cut down last fall, the reddened Christmas tree, a mound of grass raked from the lawn and a bundle of asparagus fern from the garden. I didn’t plan on using the Frazier fir, since I only wanted a small, respectable fire. From experience I knew the Christmas tree would burn too hot, fast with high, leaping flames.

My daughter Tammie joined me by the blaze. Watching me tuck sticks into the embers, she observed, “You really love playing with fire, don’t you?”

I grinned at her and admitted, “I’ve always enjoyed tending fires. When I was small my family burned all our household garbage except bottles, cans and kitchen scraps. It was big excitement for us to all stand around and watch stuff burn. If I got too close to the fire, my brothers and sisters told me that if I fell in and burned off my head, I’d have to wear a kettle to replace my head and that my new name would be little Miss Kettlehead.”

Tammie laughed, “That’s a weird thing to tell a kid.”

I nodded and agreed, “Yes, it is. But when I was a kid, it seemed to make sense.

Sitting down on a small barrel, I watched the fire. Flames licked at a pile of grass next to it. I had raked the grass up this spring. Too damp to ignite, the grass sent up a plume of thick, white smoke. A breeze swirled the smoke towards where Tammie and I were sitting. Coughing, I jumped to my feet.

Moving my make-shift seating to the other side of the fire, I sat down again after throwing in a few more branches. Birds were enjoying the warm, early evening air. Their joyful songs were touching. We heard a cardinal singing a love song to his missus and a robin announcing his territory. A chickadee lazily called out friendly, happy greetings. When we heard a loud rat-a-tat-tat, Tammie exclaimed, “A pileated woodpecker!” Its chuckling call immediately followed.

The wind shifted again and the acrid smoke was once again in my face. I picked up my barrel and moved it again. Taking a bundle of the bleached white asparagus fern, I commented, “Let’s see how these do in the fire.” The minute the tinder-dry vegetation made contact with the hot embers; a loud, roaring fire erupted. I jumped back and yelled, “Wow! That was almost like throwing gasoline into the fire!”

My daughter scolded, “Be careful, Mom!” I slowly fed the rest of the asparagus fern to the fire. My eyes burned from the smoke and heat as I leaned over the flames to push logs in to make sure everything burned.  

The minute I sat down to rest, the wind shifted and the smoke was once again in my face. Picking up my barrel to move it again, I complained, “That smoke seems to follow me!”

Watching me choke and cough, Tammie suggested with a laugh, “Since you started the fire, maybe the smoke thinks you are its mama.”

Chuckling, I admitted, “If I burned my head off and had to wear a kettle to replace it, it makes sense I would have whiffs of smoke for babies!”

Rolling her eyes, Tammie answered, “Sure, why not? That makes just as much sense as having to wear a kettle to replace a burned off head.”

The fire finally died down. All the cardboard was burned, all my small trees, branches and asparagus were reduced to ashes. My daughter and I got up and slowly walked back to the house. Our clothing and hair smelled of smoke but the time we spent watching the fire had filled us with satisfaction.

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