Burning Therapy

During the winter months, I generally spend a lot of time gathering downed timber in the woodlands, cleaning up debris from storms, and opening paths along fence lines. This year, when I thought about the newly-purchased pecan orchard property, which needed a lot of cleanup, the idea of my winter work became a bit overwhelming. Back in December, with the weather colder than usual and including a bit of ice and snow, I began to wonder if I was going to manage any cleanup at all this winter. Finally, in mid-January, temperatures rose into the 40’s and 50’s, often presenting little wind, and thoughts of working out in the sun once again beckoned me to spend time outdoors.

But, over the last few weeks, I have struggled with disappointment and melancholy. Mostly, I felt completely let down by what was going on in our country. Even though I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s I was too young to remember much about the troubled times of that era. All of my life, I have been sensitive to too much stimulation. I have never been able to watch much television or even endure listening to conversation about issues where people became very passionate. The recent rioting and rebellion over the election of our new President made me feel angry, as if I needed to protect myself from a rabid mob of people. I tried to understand these intense views and behaviors, but finally decided it was just too much negativity and darkness. In my experience, reactions of fear and anger only festered more of the same. So, I tapped into my basic need to find peace and quiet, and to escape or ignore constant external “noise”.

Over much of my life, I have learned to live with chaos, drama and even violence. When I was young, I  found the best way to escape it was to bottle-up my feelings and try to find a quiet place to be. As I matured, I sought professional help and, thankfully, have developed some better coping skills. And when FD and I moved onto this place, I discovered that nature offered me the best therapy of all. Daisy deer helped me notice and marvel at the grandest and smallest aspects of nature. In the early years here, when we were doing a lot of cleanup in the woodlands and clearing trails, it was the soothing flames of fire that allowed me to “burn away” the anger, hurt, and negativity that continued to crop up from time to time. Wintertime burning became my time of deep, healing therapy.

Not long after returning from my late-December trip to Nebraska to attend my nephew Zach’s funeral, I began to feel a deep compassion for my sister Lisa – Zach’s mother. Though I knew nothing about what she was going through with having lost her son, I did have some understanding of dealing with hurt and sorrow from some of my own painful experiences in life. The more I considered how she might feel, the more I wished I could give her the experience of “burning therapy”. If visiting nature regularly and working a burn pile of brush could help me over the years,  I knew… well, I was just sure, it would be beneficial to my sister. After all, Lisa had always been the family outdoor girl and resident “pyromaniac”! From a young age, she had been intrigued with fire. In kindergarten at the Lutheran parochial school we attended, she accidentally started the altar on fire in her eagerness to light the devotion candles. There were numerous other fire incidents at home, but nothing devastating or catastrophic, and it was always an ongoing family joke about Lisa’s fascination with fire.

Punkin came to visit often and Lisa enjoyed feeding her sunflower seeds. Punkin allows gentle petting while she eats.
Punkin came to visit often, and Lisa enjoyed feeding her sunflower seeds. Punkin allows gentle petting while she eats.

So I invited Lisa to come visit. I wrote to her about nature on this place and how soothing it was, and how the weather in Oklahoma had been beautiful and warm lately. I spoke of the pecan orchard, and how we could take buggy rides and walk to the river. And lastly, I said if the weather was good and there was little wind, it was possible we could burn the brush pile and gather more wood, stoking it for hours or days if she liked. She wrote back that I hooked her with “the burning thing”, and drove down to see us the following week!

I have a stepping path with decent footholds down to the burn pit, but the pitchfork often helps in climbing back to the top!
I have a stepping path with decent footholds down to the burn pit, but the pitchfork often helps in climbing back to the top!

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While Doug and I kept two trailers of wood coming non-stop, Lisa worked at burning each load. And while low humidity and a slight breeze made burning a bit unfavorable, I found Lisa was really quite talented at keeping the fire low and burning off each trailer load efficiently without risk of flying embers or catching nearby grasses on fire. Of course we had a water hose at the ready just in case!
While Lisa’s friend, Doug, and I kept two trailers of wood coming non-stop, Lisa worked at burning each load. And while low humidity and a slight breeze made burning a bit unfavorable, I found Lisa was really quite talented at keeping the fire low and burning off each trailer load efficiently without risk of flying embers or catching nearby grasses on fire. Of course, we had a water hose at the ready just in case!

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Lisa and her friend Doug enjoy the warmth of the fire and the beauty of the woodlands.
Lisa and her friend Doug enjoy the warmth of the fire and the beauty of the woodlands.

Fortunately, the good weather continued while Lisa visited, with daily sunshine bringing 50 and 60F temperatures and a pleasantly minimal breeze. We all enjoyed gathering wood and pitching it onto the fire while listening to the gentle popping and cracking as it burned, often joined by the occasional squirrel chatter or call from a nearby woodpecker. In the dark of night, we stepped outside to feel the gentle breeze and listen to the call of Barred Owls in the woodlands, and to catch the pleasant scent of wood burning in the fire pit, not too far away. Whenever Lisa disappeared for a while, I did not have to search far for her. Consistently, I would find her poking around in the fire with the pitch fork, or sitting on a log atop the burn pit, watching the flame and enjoying the warmth. She even pointed out the various colors that could be seen deep within the hottest part of the pile of flaming wood. I later researched that phenomenon and found that the color of a flame depends on a variety of conditions – it is not only temperature that affects the color of fire, but also chemical composition of the wood and the amount of oxygen present. Somehow, I did not expect a science lesson from my sister, but there you have it. Obviously, there is much more to fire than my psychological viewpoint!

What I hoped for during that week Lisa was here, was for her to find comfort and healing where I have found it myself for many years. And, as I observed her working at the burn pile, I did not have to ask how she was doing. Just watching from afar, I could see in her movement and facial expression what I had come to know many times for myself as I tended a fire. The day after Lisa headed back home, I continued the therapy session for myself, stirring up the hot coals beneath the mound of ash and gathering more wood from the bottom. But this time when the coals and fresh wood rekindled the flames, I found myself paying closer attention to those colors Lisa was talking about!

© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


52 thoughts on “Burning Therapy

    1. Thanks, Paulette! For the most part, our winter has been mild. We had some severe, cold weather in December, and the wind has been up, but the temperatures are not too bad. I feel the love, friend – you have a terrific weekend yourself!

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  1. I just love this whole story, Lori. The way you understood that you were feeling overwhelmed, and the way you were able to follow that thread to something that could be helpful to both you and Lisa. It’s the best part of being human, and you do it so well. Big hugs. xx

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  2. Such a beautiful gift for Lisa. You continue to amaze me with your thoughts and actions in life. Love you Lori!

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    1. Aw, Shari, thank you. I think at this age we’re like smooth, polished river rock. The jagged edges are wearing down. I love you too, sweet friend of many decades! 🙂

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    1. Fire therapy is a wonderful thing… keeping it low and slow. I am not a lover of fire with big licking flames that say “danger”! That is why my work in the woodlands, just picking up a little of this and that, creating little paths for the buggy, is so soothing. It’s slow and methodical and meditative. 🙂

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  3. I’m sure watching over the fire must have given Lisa’s mind and emotions, sorely needed rest away from the places that must reminder her everyday of her son. It was such a caring gesture on your part. Bravo xxx

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    1. Thank you, Judith. I wish Lisa could have stayed longer. She seemed so calm and happy. The “afraid” part I do not understand. I do not think I have ever feared anything living in this country. I guess if one was here illegally, or a drug runner from South America, perhaps there would be something to fear now. 😀 I think folks are projecting a lot of negativity and the media stirs the pot constantly. It’s just too much drama and chaos for me. 😦

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  4. Punkin seemed to know how special Lisa was. You were so lucky the Oklahoma weather cooperated while she was there. Burning therapy is good therapy. Some of my best thoughts have been while tending the brush pile. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  5. Lori, that was an excellent idea to invite your sis. Lisa to enjoy a visit with you and get in some therapy time as well. I know she just had to have gone home in a better frame of mind. The time in the wooded areas is so precious. I can only imagine how lovely the weather was and of the fresh open air scented with burning fragrant wood. The pics are great as usual and they are always a highlight for me.

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    1. Oh, thanks so much, Yvonne! I simply wanted Lisa to feel the same peace and tranquility that I do when I’m burning brush and wood. Of course, I knew she’d be tempted when I said she could manage the fire. I know my sister well. 😀

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          1. Hmmm, maybe a few more invitations to your sis and get the orchard “whipped into shape” before spring. I just wish I lived near you. I’m a great twig, branch and, brush picker upper. 🙂 I get lots of mhy exercise doin this while walking my one acre. I jut can’t burn the stuff I give the twigs and wood to my helper and he uses the wood for barbecue. Maybe you could bundle some pecan wood and sell that to folks that barbecue or not. It would involve more work for you though. But maybe give it away rather than burn it unless it is diseased wood which needs to destroyed.

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          2. My family is eight hours away in Nebraska and most everyone has work outside of their homes – but you are right, being farm people used to work we could sure get the place whipped into shape in no time if everyone came! Ha ha. I too think if people did more yard work or even volunteered time picking up trash in parks or neighborhoods – along roadsides, they could get plenty of exercise in. And yes, we have given some wood away and there is plenty to sell. If we can manage to use some of the wood (larger limbs) for milling plank we will do that too. Although, transport of that big wood and finding someone to mill it isn’t always easy either. For now, I am picking up branches and twigs on my own. Some of it is carted in small wagons (I pull with the buggy) and burned, while other is just stacked until it can be dealt with. We have a lot of chainsawing to do – trees that have fallen on cattle fencing. It will take years to clean up, but it’s doable and it’s wonderful work for me. I love being in the orchard… as you know! 😉

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  6. Some disjointed observations: The end of this year promises a few visits. You are such a good sister, Lori. I feel much the same about our current climate in our country. As a pre-teen/teenager I saw lots of public unrest, but in these days it all seems to be very angry. Or maybe I have just forgotten the pulse of the 60s? MLK and the peace marches, Kent State shootings…

    I guess it does come back if I think on it. Of these the violence against the Freedom marchers and the shooting at Kent State are the most vivid and painful.

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    1. I was very young when all of that 1960’s unrest was happening. I only remember fragments of it, discussed in Current Events class in school. Of course we didn’t have the media coverage that we do now and I’m guessing the “fake” media wasn’t so prevalent back then.
      I hope the visits all work out this year! As it stands, I may be making a few trips up north this year to help family out. Mom broke her foot and though it healed well, it was a wake up for us kids that we really need to help her out more. There are some other “help” related trips for a couple of siblings too, so I may be a little nomad traveling about this year! 🙂

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      1. While I applaud your ability and willingness to help your family (you are such a good person!) I do not envy you all that traveling about. Do be careful in your wanderings. ❤

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        1. We will see how it goes, Lynda. Trips present themselves usually, and I try not to project how they will be or come about. I will be more flexible after the deer are free (this weekend). And my aging dogs are still a lot of responsibility and care, but I think Bear won’t last too long. Of course I have thought that for months. Ha ha. Maybe he’s hanging on because he gets the best care in the world! 🙂

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  7. So this explains your absence. Welcome back, and with an uplifting story that shows the depth of your love and compassion for your sister and your understanding of what will help the two of you. What a wonderful thing you did for Lisa, and yourself.

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    1. Thank you, Audrey. I should have plenty to write about in the coming weeks. We will be releasing Emma and Ronnie deer on Sunday, so hopefully I will see them from time to time and keep everyone updated. I have also been gathering wood from the pecan orchard on good weather days, and I need to write about that – it will explain more about my absence. 🙂

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        1. Thank you for thinking of us. I am mostly worried about the coyote population. Emma and Ronnie are big enough, but they’ll need a couple of weeks to build stamina to run and leap, since they’ve been cooped up in a pen all of their lives. I am ready for them to be free. It’s been very difficult to watch them pace the fence each day. But I know they won’t miss the neighbors barking and growling dogs and they won’t miss the noises of town. I know I myself prefer to be in the quiet of the orchard and beyond to the river. I am hoping by working in the orchard in the coming weeks I might see them some and even be able to walk with them at times, just like I did with Daisy deer. It will be an adventure. 🙂

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  8. Maybe you’ve found your calling: outdoor therapist. Don’t laugh…could really be. A tour guide introducing people back to nature so she can heal and work her magic. You just open the door and point the way. You have an understanding and instinct of old wisdom
    I strongly believe one reason there is so much turmoil is that people are inside in closed rooms – little spaces – confining thoughts, spirits, hopes, and willingness to reach outside a comfort zone for adventures which reveal a lot about yourself and with communication and understanding other people. Worse that kids are trapped indoors in artificial light and environments. We’ve lost the path and who/what we are and how things are connected.
    I know what you mean by the fire therapy. There’s just something about it. (and science is everywhere HA HA)
    Great post

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    1. My goodness, I like what you said about outdoor therapy. While I was gathering wood and burning today, I thought of a half-dozen people who I know would flourish with outdoor therapy here. The psychological benefits are amazing! I sure know what it has done for me over the last nine years. I also thought of folks who would love to get fit. It’s so easy to stay in shape when doing so much walking, bending, lifting and tossing. And we eat very nutritious meals here – my sister went home with a binder full of new recipes! She enjoyed our food so much that she wants to start a healthier lifestyle.
      What you say about folks staying indoors or being trapped – it makes sense. Most of what I see that is “angry” does seem to come from large city folks. I try to understand others, but right now, it feels angry and can’t be reasoned with. It reminds me of a rabid animal – aggressive and looks frightening.
      I was terrible at science in school. I enjoy it immensely now… always the late bloomer!! Ha ha

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      1. It could be called “Simple Retreat. Quiet balance. Reforest your thoughts and soul.”
        You wouldn’t have to do anything other than what you already do – and ask them to be still and quiet. Look at what Ci and the farmy are doing? But more simple than that. Word of mouth is simply the best.
        Just mud it over – maybe in the future when you’re ready..like your book
        Science – so badly taught in schools. I was lucky that both parents loved science and we had the outdoors where it begins and matters. Learning environment is so important ( another reason people aren’t doing so well now)

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        1. Maybe with science, it’s more important that I’m learning now. I may not have appreciated as much as a youngster. My friend Ruthie is a retired science teacher, and every single time we’re together a lesson presents itself! I wish I’d had her as a teacher growing up – she makes science fascinating and easy to remember. Alas, maybe knowing her now is the real gift.
          The woodlands and orchard do indeed have much to offer. I think you are correct with “word of mouth” being the best way to offer, “Simple Retreat. Quiet balance. Reforest your thoughts and soul.” What a lovely way to put it too!

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  9. Fire therapy! Outdoor therapy!! You have it all going on there. Remarkable living where you are. I have said it before and will say it again! I wish I could have a slice of that life somewhere, sometime! Beautifully written piece. It’s amazing what you did for Lisa. I am sure it would help heal her over time though it’s a tall order! Losing a family member – a son – is never easy.

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    1. Thank you, Mandeep. Lisa will be back in September… and I think some of my other siblings plan to come this year also. It’s been interesting that once they make that first visit (it’s a seven to eight hour drive for them) they are hooked and want to return! I was completely happy when we were just ten acres, but I have to admit I feel a real sense of adventure and also tranquility having the pecan orchard now. It’s just a little slice of heaven.

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  10. I crave some of that outdoor therapy as well, Sister! Though I’d rather sit around the fire while someone else stokes it (I never acquired the love of burning), I do enjoy the warmth and the serenity that it brings with the crackling of the wood in the flames and the smokey scent that fills the air. I hope we can make that trip as a family again this year, it’s a wonderful way to “unplug” from the craziness of life.

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    1. Coming here is “unplugging”! Maybe we will have a pecan crop this fall and we can have a pecan picking frolic! We were just talking last night as we sat around the fire pit (not the burning pit where Lisa burned brush) about how great it was when Em and Sid were here over the holidays last winter. I have no idea how late it was when we went to bed, but sitting around the fire was so soothing, and we talked a lot about important, and not so important things. The hot dogs and s’mores weren’t too bad either! 🙂

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  11. Such a beautiful and welcome post, dear lady—like the action it contains, reading it is balm for the spirit! I know (times three!) what it is to have a fabulous sister and how powerful time spent together is for finding one’s center again. What a perfect way you found to make that possible for both Lisa and you. And as our friends Phil and Celi and others said above, it’s in unhurried, quiet, easeful living in the heart of nature that we can all find respite, whether that’s solo or shared with the best of fellow sojourners. Phil might well be right that you have a future as outdoor therapist! But having shared your techniques here a little is a grand start, if not a forum for creating a whole community of willing devotees of the practice.

    It’s decidedly the one downside of the apartment to which R and I moved a year ago—there’s no safe and therefore peaceful place to walk to from here, let alone for basking in nature. There is, thankfully, a very well-designed park with tiny lakes in it hardly a half-mile away, but we are surrounded by terrible traffic that is under heavy construction burdens as well right now so that merely getting across the road nearest home is putting life and limb at considerable risk, never mind getting the rest of the way to the park with a no-sidewalk, no shoulders road. So I have the choice of either doubling up R’s mileage to work by driving him and picking him up in order to have a car or walking laps on our interior stairs as exercise. When the weather’s either hot or stormy, you know which option tends to win. I am trying hard to be smart about getting out both with the chauffeuring method and on weekends as much as I can and I look to find more reasonable ways to do it. Somehow I suspect our landlord wouldn’t appreciate my building a burn pit next to the carport! 😉

    And yes, I am certain that both being too cut off from nature and too polarized in all our views nowadays contributes to our minds and attitudes being as closed and dark as the spaces where we live and work. I’ve been mortified by conflict of even the slightest kind pretty much from birth, so I’m exceedingly rarely a reader or, especially, watcher of news. And now that the sources thereof have decided to be so shallow and partisan and entertainment-driven that I don’t trust even those I frequently agree with, I am glad to get wholly away from their volatile and vituperative nonsense and retreat into any safe haven of nature or, barring that, absorbing fiction of any kind. The few honest resources I can find the same calming influence in are blogs like yours and our mutual friends’. It does me good to remember that kindness, healing, humor, and hope still abound and I need to turn toward those attributes instead of the insistent noise of the angry world.

    Peace and love to you!
    Kathryn

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    1. What a lovely comment… made my day to read it! I have three sisters and a brother. I find as I’ve gotten older that time spent (mostly on the phone since I’m so far away) with them means so much more. For many years I made a trip or two up there each year (more trips a year when our dad was ill) and now most of them traverse down here to visit because they love how healing and soothing this place can be. My brother especially, is no traveler, and for the last several years he raves about the great time he has here. We do not do anything special. We simply enjoy each other’s company, and roam the outdoors, taking in what nature has to offer.
      Ha ha… no doubt you’d end up a jailbird with hefty fines imposed if you tried to stoke up a burn pit next to the carport!! Do you and R plan to retire to the country someday? There are times here than I find myself frustrated with town being just across the street – especially the alley side of this property where I pick up trash several times a week because folks do not bag trash or their dogs tear up everything and the litter goes flying into our woods. But it is soothing to go down into the bottom part of the woodlands and on into the orchard, where little of the town noise can be heard, and I can walk peacefully or work simply enjoying the lovely sounds of nature. It’s a wonderful escape. I wish everyone had access and security to enjoy such areas.
      I am totally in agreement with your last paragraph, Kath… I really only feel good tapping into “honest resources” where I get a positive boost. 🙂

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