September 12

Controlling the Fire

September 12, 2016

Personal Growth

As I work in the backyard—pruning, picking up sticks, cutting down trees that are failing under the overhead canopy, and more—I generate large piles of material that need to be burned. The city will carry away small amounts of brush, but not in the quantity I routinely produce. So out of necessity—and pure pleasure—I regularly light bonfires in the backyard.

Normally, I don’t start a fire until I’ve cleared—with a rake or leaf blower—a wide firebreak, which is ground not covered with material that will burn. If you don’t do that, sparks and heat tend to ignite surrounding dry grass, leaves, and sticks, and it doesn’t take long to generate a forest fire.

On one occasion, however, I started the fire without an adequate firebreak, and soon I had a small burn in the surrounding grass. I wasn’t concerned—I had controlled hundreds of such fires—so I walked a hundred yards or so to the shed to get a rake and a shovel. By the time I got back, the fire was much bigger, and I discovered that no matter how vigorously I pounded the grass with the shovel or moved grass with the rake, the fire was raging out of control.

This time I ran to the shed—gets harder as I get older—and got the leaf blower. By this time, the fire was twenty times larger in area than the actual bonfire, and it was quickly extending into the grasses under the trees. I had a problem.

Why a leaf blower? Every fire requires oxygen, fuel, and heat, and the leaf blower temporarily removes the heat from the fuel of the grass, much like putting out a birthday candle by blowing. I also directed the flow toward the bonfire, which removed much of the fuel—the grass—from the spreading flames. It was a close call, requiring me to get uncomfortably close to the flames, but finally the forest fire was prevented. This was a welcome result, both for the trees and for me, since my town takes a dim view of setting forests on fire and threatening nearby houses.

As I sat down, soaked with sweat and mildly burned on all my exposed skin, I reflected how little effort is required to blow out a match, how more effort is required to clear a firebreak, and how much more effort and potential harm is caused by not doing the work of clearing.

Each day we have an opportunity to put out our emotional fires at the stage of blowing out a match. We can refuse to indulge a negative or unloving thought, for example, and focus on the love we have in our lives. No fire. We can also make regular, conscious choices to be grateful and loving, which clears away all the fuel in our lives that can so easily go up in flames at the touch of injustice, criticism, negative thinking, inconvenience, and more.

Oh, how wise we are when we take the steps to keep a fire small, or not to light one at all, instead of being faced with extinguishing a forest fire.

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