The instant crackle of old wood, the spitting of sappy pine and smokiness of dung – all provide the distinctive tang in the air which permeates clothing and hair leaving an unmissable and instantly recognizable indicator for fire.
The constituents of each type of fire can be determined by the keen combustion connoisseur utilizing the afore mentioned olfactory sense. I consider myself as a more general lover of the flame and therefore only recognise certain types of wood burning – apple, cedar, pine.
I love a decent sized fire of well seasoned wood which I know will burn hot and long but would swap that in an instant for the promise of a small conflagration from meager dung and driftwood pickings beside a lake in Kyrgyzstan.
Sitting by my small fire, beside Lake Issy-Kul knowing I have my little home behind me and just enough foraged fire wood to enjoy the emotional comfort that such a scene conveys and the brief heat it radiates, gives me enough warmth to still the late summer, evening shivers and fill pockets full of memories of the warmth to light and heat future nights of miserable wet and cold.
I watch the light fade and colours dance across the water as the sun sets behind outlined bulbs of cloud to the West. The cloud threatens rain and I later see lightening flashes light up that far distant sky but it never reaches my shore. As the light grows dim I see the first stars and the tiny fingernail sliver of new moon reflected in the still water.
All these things seen through the ever dancing, dipping and wavering veil of smoke and heat emanating from my little pile of brightly burning then gently glowing, ever evolving sticks and grass.
Once the daylight has gone I drift out into the depths of the cold lake. The water temperature prickles my skin and leaves me slightly breathless but it could also be the stunning sight of the developing night sky starting to be reflected on the surface of the lakes inky black depths.
I feel tiny in this unknown watery world and my fire on the shore provides a beacon for me to follow back to the safety of my sanctuary and the everyday.
On my return from the lake’s cold embrace the fire is low and the wood is giving up the last of its reserves. The rocks placed around the edge of the fire, containing and supporting it, are now repositories of that remembered initial roar.
I wrap one in my blanket as a large and solid central heating system. It gives out enough heat to rid me of the swimmer’s shivers.
Fire has given the means of cooking, light, warmth and solitary or social comforts across ages. It is no different for me. Fire seems to be an element which once conjuered in the mind can generate a simulacrum of response – my body can generate a response from heat by concentrating my imagination on the sensory aspects of fire.
Each moment in front of the fire holds and unlocks memories of past times and situations mirrored by the flames. Campfires with friends on beaches come closer. Long pub lunch fireside chats draw in. Canalside fires and homely narrowboat stoves are rekindled in my minds eye as I sit, watching the colour temperature of the embers change from brilliant white hot to a dusty rose gold glow and then twinkle out. I feel the last of the heat with a well feed satisfaction and joy of connection to friends, my surroundings, Time and the warm, present moment.