A light rain. Big, cold drops plash where they land, gurgling through the gutters to the ground. The neighbor’s crabapple, weakened by fungus, reveals a tangle of browned branches through its thin, drooping leaves.

Yesterday I had to burn a couple of armloads of our own fungus-infected branches I cut from a chokecherry tree earlier this year
. It was cool enough, and they were dry enough, that a few sheets of crumpled newspaper was all it took to get them going.

I carried them in to our fireplace for the burning. I was shocked by the intensity of their heat, the literal roar of the fire. I pictured my face red and shiny and tight, flames burning high in my eyes.

I used to love fire. On camping trips I would stoke one for hours, coaxing frenzied flames, thrilling to the sudden crackle of pine needles and sap, and basking in the heat and light as I faced the darkness all around.

As I got older, fire became more utilitarian – to cook, to warm, to keep unspoken fears at bay. I watched the flames more closely, looking for shapes or subtle shifts in color. I listened for voices in the crackles and pops, whistles and sighs. Even at the end, when it was just coals, black outside and furious within, slowly settling into ashes, the fire still seemed restless, unsated.

Now, I don’t know. I don’t need
the fire for anything. I still get a twinge of excitement from its danger, but it’s just a small thing, and far from the surface.

I suppose what I feel most is the life still bound up in the wood, and the release that fire brings. All that energy, stored up for years, to hold strong, to resist wind and ice and gravity, given up so quickly, so violently, so forcefully. I think that’s what I found so shocking – how much force came from this little armload of twigs, even 5 months after they were cut off from their source.

The chokecherry tree, by the way, seems to have made a complete recovery.