There is a lot to be said for fire. Obviously it needs to be controlled, but when it is, it’s quite handy. There’s nothing like a burger cooked on a grill, or a marshmallow toasted over red hot coals, or the kind of heat that radiates from a wood stove. At my airbnb cottage, there is a freestanding fire pit near the deck that many a guest have enjoyed. You make the fire, you bring down the adirondack chairs to encircle it, and you watch either the fire up close or the fire far away — the flames or the stars.
June seems like a funny time to be writing about fires, especially after the piece on strawberry jam, a topic perfectly suited to early summer. But you never know what’s around the next bend, and tonight I have good reason to be thinking about fire. Tonight I received a picture of Sara’s jam.
Sara and Scott came to the cottage a few weeks ago, and shared some goodies with me. I in turn shared some of my strawberry jam with them. Lo and behold, next thing I knew, Sara wanted the recipe to make some strawberry jam of her own. Which she did, evidently with great success! And tonight, along with sending the great photo, she told me the red raspberries near where she lives are ripe for picking soon, and she plans to make raspberry jam next. “You have started a fire in me,” she said.
I love to start a fire. In Vermont we had two wood stoves in the house. The next two houses had fireplaces, the cottage has a wood stove, and there is nothing like a burn pile to get rid of brush — so I have started plenty of fires and never lost sight of the magic. You crumple a bunch of newspapers, make three or four layers of kindling criss-crossed on top of the paper, put a medium size log on top of that, make sure it has air, and strike a match.The striking of the match makes the spark, and the spark loves the paper and eats it up and breathes the air and grows. It’s easy to do if you have the right stuff. It’s so easy it’s like magic.
In the old days you kept a tinder box and needed more luck and more skill. Presumably you had more motivation as well because of the lack of backup systems. We are so spoiled! In any case fires usually don’t just appear in front of you when it is a cool night and you want to warm up in front of one. You have to start a fire, and no matter which way you do it, you have to first have a spark. Sparks don’t just happen either. You make them. Even the flick of the wrist (or the thumb in the case of a lighter) has to be right.
I love the spark! First of all, spark is just a very cool word — say it out loud and hear for yourself. Secondly, a spark is like really good bread — when the right combination of ingredients is put together with the right technique in the right environment, then given the right amount of time to do what it needs to do, magic happens, and you get not only the unbelievably wonderful smell of bread baking on your house, but you also get the unbelievably wonderful taste of it when it’s done.
The fact that I bought a loaf of bread today that was still very warm and filled my car with its enticing aroma certainly has a great deal to do with this descriptive analogy. But I can be passionate about bread as Sara can be passionate about jam right now because that’s what this fire business is really all about. Passion.
When Sara says I started a fire in her, I think she means I sparked a passion. She already had an interest, she already had some experience, and she got herself a lot of berries. She could have all that, but if there is no spark, there is unlikely to be jam. None of us have to make jam. We don’t have to write blogs either, or go fishing in cool mountain streams or compete in triathlons or grow flowers in our gardens or contort our bodies in strange yoga poses.
So why do we do these things? Because there’s a spark, a force, a magic that makes you want to do something, then makes you do the something that you really want to do — and do it well (at least sometimes) and enjoy it fully. That spark can create a passion that moves you through the motions and in the end brings an indescribable feel-good (and in the case of jam, an indescribable taste on fresh bread!). I think my jam was somehow Sara’s spark. It was the magic that moved her to spend an afternoon of vacation time making something yummy that will be a joy to eat and a joy to give to others. That’s a double bonus for me. Not only do I get to enjoy my own jam, but I get the thrill of knowing that my jam begat her jam.
I expect most people go their whole lives and never make jam. That doesn’t matter. This isn’t about jam (though Sara’s is undoubtedly fantastic!). This is about doing something that you really want to do — and doing it well and enjoying it fully. It’s about letting a spark become a fire, an interest become a passion, even for an afternoon! How does that happen? Yes, you need the right pieces, the right ingredients, the right technique, etc. But in everything worth anything, there is also a little bit of magic. When the magic happens, you like it and you want to do it again. And just like the spark touching the paper, the bit of magic breathes and grows. Let it.