Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Taking the Heat

FYI:  I have another blog I post to periodically.  Today I tried the old frying an egg on the sidewalk.  You can see for yourself if it worked:  jane-reallycoolstuff.blogspot.com

I ran into an old friend yesterday at bible study. I’m really glad to see them settling into our neck of the woods. Her husband is a firefighter and I am always in need of a good fireman. Even though a fireman lives right across the road from us, I don’t suppose I’ll ever have too many of them around me. I almost suspect the county gives firemen a tax break to live close to me. I have a history.

When we bought this place it have never been inhabited that I know of. For the first few years we just came here to camp. It was cool to have our own private camp ground. There are three things you can’t do in a public campground: dig a hole, start a fire anywhere you want and pee on the ground. We did all three with abandon.

Eventually we brought out an old Lawnboy mower and started clearing off a small piece of our 23 acres. We worked that little mower so hard that we could have been a commercial for Lawnboy mowers. It did anything we asked it and lasted far longer that we ever thought it would. The place was so overgrown that we didn’t really know what we had. After our first year of clearing we were surprised to discover we had a creek. So we needed a bridge.

I married one of the most obsessive compulsive engineers God ever created. When Beaven builds something he doesn’t mess around. When it came time to deal with the creek he insisted on a bridge that would support a parade of elephants and last the ages. So we put down four 8X8 railroad ties to span the creek with 2X6 treated lumber as cross beams. Once we had this we could cross over onto the larger side of our land and continue clearing.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the cedars. They’re some of the nastiest, prickly, water-sucking trees around. About the only thing they’re really good for is to provide shelter for birds and to burn in campfires. And even the campfires are an iffy proposition. Cedar logs put out a snap, crackle and pop that can be amusing at night but sometimes they make a small explosion that sends hot coals onto your clothes or body parts. I have many a sweatshirt with a burn hole in it from the cedar. The cedars were the first trees to go. I wanted to make room for the few pines we had, to nourish them, love them and encourage their lives.

In the process of clearing out cedars one hot August summer I had a huge pile of dead trees and decided the efficient thing would be to burn them. The mark of a good Girl Scout is being able to light a fire with one match. Well, that day I was very proud of myself because it just went up like crazy with one match. While I was standing there congratulating myself on what a great Girl Scout I was I noticed the fire was spreading. I tried to stomp it out but the flames were too hot to get close enough. I never noticed before how much hotter a fire is when you're wearing shorts. My Girl Scout troop had only camped in the winter. There wasn’t much wind, which was fortunate. It wasn't spreading very fast but it was definitely out of control. I ran to get Beaven.

I have noticed that Beaven’s response to most situations is to utilize the biggest tool he can find to fix the problem. So for this he got out our old Ford 8N tractor (a collector’s item but not much on firefighting). I'm not sure how he thought it was going to help but he drove the tractor over the grassfire for a few times while I was beating out the flames nearest our neighbors pasture. Finally I went to call the fire department.

My map skills are the worst in the world. Anyone who has ever been anywhere with me can tell you that. Add this to being in a total state of panic and my directions on how to get to our house were useless. I finally agreed to meet them at the gas station about three miles away.

Once they got to our house I was relieved to see they had a huge tank of water on the truck. There’s not exactly a fire hydrant in front of our place out here. They did pause at the edge of our bridge because they weren't sure if it would hold the fire truck. They stopped at the creek and said they couldn’t cross it. I told them it was sturdy bridge, that we had built it ourselves and his response was something like “Lady we have 2,000 gallons of water on this truck.” Then another fireman got out of the truck and looked under the bridge for a while and said it was worth a try. We held our breath. When they crossed safely, Beaven and I would have high-fived each other if our pasture wasn't burning up.

After the bridge test, the fire was a cakewalk. They drove around a little and sprayed water everywhere and it was out. They drove back across the bridge with confidence. I made huge glasses of iced tea for everyone and they put me on the donors list for the Volunteer Fire Department.

The interesting thing is that this grassfire gave out enough heat to germinate the pine seeds on the ground and, years later now, we've ended up with a tiny little forest of pines out of the deal. I got more pines in exchange for less cedars.

The next fire was smaller and I almost got it out by myself. This one burned out of control a little slower than the first one. But I had learned to act a bit faster. I ran into the house to get the fire extinguisher and Beaven looked up from his paper. "Nothing”, I told him, “I've got it under control.” By the time I gave up and called the fire department I just told them I'd meet them at the gas station this time. But you could see the flames from down the road so they might have been able to find it even without my directions.

By the third fire we had graduated to a riding mower. And this time, I swear it wasn't my fault. It was another hot and dry day. I was only mowing. Mowing. How can you start a fire while you're mowing, for God's sake? Beaven deliberated long and hard over whether awesome Thanksgiving meals were really enough reason to stay married to me. That evening he told me the red hot muffler on the riding mower had probably caught the tall dry grass on fire. It really wasn’t my fault.

Whatever.

I was riding along minding my own business and all of a sudden I was in the middle of a circle of flames all around the mower. I jumped off before the thing exploded or whatever gas engines do when they catch fire. And this time I went straight to the phone. After a few sentences of explaining who I was and where I lived the dispatcher handed me the final insult, "Yeah, lady, we know where you live."

Now the reason Beaven says I've set fire to the place four times, not three, like there's really any difference between the numbers, and who wants to keep count, anyway, is that the guys had to come out a second time for this fire. The fire started at the edge of our land and moved onto the neighbor’s place. Where we are grass and meadow they are all old oaks and thick decaying underbrush. Once a fire gets in that kind of terrain there's no telling how long it can smolder only to burst into flames later.

We had sent the firemen home after another round of huge glasses of iced tea and more profuse thanks. We took some time to look at the mower. The wheels had melted so we decided to wait until the next day to tow it off. We had even gone in and had nice relaxing showers ourselves. We were about to go out to eat for a little celebratory post-fire dinner. It had become a tradition of sorts. We went out to make one last check of the blackened pasture and off in the distance we saw the bright orange flames.

This time the fire dept didn't mess around. They brought in a bulldozer and cut a dirt line that encompassed the fire and then some. I can't remember exactly if they did the helicopter with the bucket of water thing. I know there was talk of doing that. You'd think I would remember a thing like that.

I had some small vindication a couple of years ago when I was living in Mississippi working on the Katrina recovery. There was a huge grass fire across the road. Yes, on somebody else’s land. Even better--the fireman’s land. Beaven sent me photos and I sent around a mass email to family insisting I was totally out of the state and could not be blamed.

I still get a knot in my stomach whenever I see orange and black colors together. You can imagine what Halloween is like for me.

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