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Starting bonfires in the rain.

Sunday, Neil and Rachel were having a party for their son, my nephew, Hal. I was in charge of clearing the back garden and lighting a bonfire so marshmallows could be toasted. It rained until 1pm and then miraculously the sky cleared and the sun made up for the chill in the wind. I had been saving some well seasoned sprigs of wood for just this purpose and they snapped cleanly with a satisfying crack, promising a quick efficient burn.


I made a circle of bricks and filled it with paper before constructing a wigwam of the thin dry wood. A quick burn to produce a bed of charcoal and then I could stoke it gradually, keeping the flame alive or letting the charcoal glow and the white ash spread.


In Palenque, on the edge of the national park and two minutes from Don Mucho’s Mexican Italian Pizzeria and Music Bar I made a hobo stove from an old tin pail. Shaving and splitting the damp wood littering the floor of the creeping jungle, I coaxed the unwilling flame into life. Or just lit a spark and watched it roar.


As I gaze into the fire I wonder what it is that stays the same when the context changes. Change the name, change the language, change the clothes, change the memories. Something asserts itself, some act or essence that is essentially ours.


I remember the dull red glow of iron, heated and hammered, heated and hammered. The sulphur and impurities burning out, the carbon content stabilising, with each heating and hammering the structure of the metal, finer and finer.


Its the same road, just different scenery.


Milo tells me you can use the embers from the fire to make spoons and bowls, selectively burning out the bits of the tool that won’t be there.


Its a good, hot clean flame and the toasted marshmallows, speared on wooden splints, get eaten all up. We let the fire burn down and the surface cools to a black, barely concealing the red heat still burning below. Why put out the fire. Its safe like it is. Lets see how long it will glow?


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