Wednesday, 17 June 2015



Burn, Baby, Burn


Ann’s brother Jim is staying with us this week. Dawn comes early to Edmonton at this time of year, the birds begin their morning territorial chirping around 4:30, a half an hour or so before sunrise. Jim rises with the jays and magpies, and after he does his Zen-voodoo-yoga exercises he looks around for something else to do. Yesterday he swept every single inch of pavement on our property to magazine photo shoot pristine. Jim is a good guest.


Alberta may or may not be on the verge of drought. Wildfires burn throughout the province but civic reservoirs are topped up. Nobody really knows anything for certain except that we’re better off than California for the time being. Due to intermittent though frequent provincial fire bans I have over two years gathered pruned or wind blown tree branches and bundled them with twine into faggots resembling the weighty wooden load of the back of the hermit on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV.


Jim and Ann this morning decided we had a perfect day to burn our stash of twigs, the air was still and the government had lifted the open fire ban late last week. Anyway, Jim needed something to do. Using yesterday’s papers Jim soon had a hot and healthy blaze going. He sat tending it, methodically snapping sticks and piling them on. We tossed in a couple of broken wooden coat hangers which burned beautifully. I caught the fire fever and caught myself peering around the yard searching for more stuff to burn.


Fire is primordial and hypnotic; innately we are all pyromaniacs. I remembered the mob madness of another Jim’s summer solstice party held about 20 years ago. My old friend from Montreal lived about 20 minutes outside of Calgary on a piece of land big enough to accommodate a pick up baseball diamond. As I recall Jim was on the ball enough to construct some type of containment for his pagan bonfire, saturate the turf around it and have a garden hose at ready. This forethought was definitely out of character but theoretically an out of control fire could have scorched its way across the prairie to the base of the Rockies.


The main event was to be the sacrificing of his family’s Christmas tree, saved since the previous January. The dead, rusty fir went up with a spectacular WHOOSH! FOOM! The scene and the sound were awesome. And doesn’t alcohol make everything and every idea wonderful? The frenzy of needing more and more fuel took us; we raided his garage for hockey sticks and maybe a Louisville Slugger. The tomato plant stakes were pulled up next. The lattice shrubbery demarcating Jim’s wife’s herb garden was ripped from the earth. Then we went inside hunting for brooms and empty picture frames.


The fire eventually petered out. Piled among the ashes of some of his former possessions was evidence of some discord within Jim’s marriage. The fallout reminded me of the time my big brother Bob, his best friend Jack, our friend Stats Guy and I gerry-built a sauna on John’s vacation property utilizing the carefully chosen stones decorating his wife’s elaborate and well-tended rock garden. John had a neighbour with whom he did not get along. Worse, the offender had a tree that cast a shadow on John’s front porch. We hatched a plan beneath the steaming tarp. We would take magic mushrooms, get chainsaws, fell the tree but make it look like beavers had done the deed. This was sheer Wile E. Coyote genius. Meanwhile the hot rocks harried by dousing scoops of cold lake water split into halves with resounding CRACKS! Even though we later attempted to recreate the rock garden as it had been the day before with our fractured shards of stone, there was soon evidence of discord within John’s marriage.

If I was of the criminal kind, I’d specialize in arson. I’d advertise my services as meGeoff the Torch: Solutions Provider to Failing Businesses. It’s never too late for a mid-life career change and that would be a pretty sweet gig, playing with fire a few nights a week and getting paid for it. A man can dream. It’s strange to imagine one that really would go up in smoke.

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