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.
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!
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…