A Bonfire

Yesterday the weather report said sunny with 40% chance of showers. We had heavy downpours at intervals all day long. At one point, Kyle and I had escaped into the old truck and were sitting, soaked, listening to the rain drum on the roof. I told Kyle what a friend told me years ago: “This is what 40% chance of showers looks like in the Adirondacks.” An hour later, during another cloudburst, I asked him, “Do you think that instead they meant it would rain 40% of the day?”

Under the wet circumstances we were triumphant when we got our bonfire started. We’d been building the burn pile for a week, stacking last winter’s fallen branches and small dead trees, then throwing on various other items: scraps of garden shed siding and 2x4s plus a few things that have turned up when we began excavating my garage: a box of canceled checks dating back to 1985, broken wooden furniture, a couple of rotten wooden doors. I’d even added Jon’s old bunk bed.

The latter had been a hard decision. I bought the bed in Sausalito in 1996 for $75, from an ad in the paper. It was a big, solid, functional bunk bed, not a pretty one. It had belonged to an elderly veteran. Jon at nine years old longed for a bunk bed; I’d found this one, hunted up twin mattresses, and bought matching blue plaid bedspreads. I fitted it out with lights above and below for bedtime reading and a homemade wooden bar (stained to match) to keep him from rolling off the upper bunk. But now as I looked at the frame and thought about storing it (no space) or selling it (no time), I realized that maybe I could just let it go. Jon had slept on it for five years and Joanne’s son Alex another two or three — I’d surely got my money’s worth. Neither Jon nor Lucy would want the bed. It was special to me only because of the sweet memories of my tousle-haired little boy.

Kyle and I took the 3/4″ plywood bed boards to use as the floor of the garden shed attic and put the frame on the burn pile.

Kyle had covered the center of the pile with tarp a few days earlier to keep it dry. Now we peeled off the tarp, stuffed paper shavings bags under the brush, and lit it. I had forgotten my camera so these photos were taken when bonfire was half finished — despite regular drenchings from the sky.

I have never yet met a boy who doesn’t like to “manage” a fire.


All the things that scare me about a big, leaping fire seem to be simply invigorating to a boy.

I’m sure it has something elemental to do with power.



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