Playing with Fire
Of course, a little danger adds a thrill to many things, including desire (see next week’s Substack!), but today my subject is actual flames over actual logs.
(Does anyone else find the televised Yule Log depressing?)
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Watching live flames crackle and hiss over dry wood is among the deep human pleasures. I have never lived in an apartment or house, no matter how humble, without a working fireplace. Surely early humans luxuriated in the warmth and beauty of a fire the same way we do today. Being mesmerized by flames feels like a primordial pleasure.
A fire is curiously hypnotic. I will often sit by the fire with a book or a notepad, which I will then ignore because gazing into the flames is so absorbing. What am I thinking about? Anything. Nothing. I feel nourished and calm as I sit by the hearth.
From time to time, I emerge from my trance to rebalance the fire: adding another log or adjusting some kindling. Sometimes the flames die out completely and I must resuscitate the fire. I make it a point to do so by rearranging the logs or by using the bellows. It is my game and goal not to use newspaper!
I understand why fires are prohibited in private homes in places like Telluride, which lies in a box canyon where particulate air pollution gets trapped. But how sad it is for that ski town! Apres ski is unimaginable without a fireplace.
Or so I feel. This is not the only time I am baffled that other people don’t share my enthusiasms.
A cousin of mine has a fireplace in her Greenwich Village loft, but she couldn’t be bothered to get logs and kindling, and she got tired of having visitors ask about having a fire. Finally, she put her couch against the wall, hiding the fireplace completely. Though I love her dearly, I find this behavior absolutely baffling.
I was also gobsmacked when an old classmate of mine renovated her house and opted for a gas fireplace instead of a real one. “It’s just so much easier,” she said. Well, sure. And gas fireplaces have gotten better in recent years; the flames are less regular. Still, people do not sit around a gas fire the way they do around one that burns logs. A wood fire holds our attention precisely because it is unpredictable. You can never be sure what will happen next.
Richard Nixon was despicable in many ways, but he loved a wood fire. He was mocked in the press for lighting fires in the White House in warm weather, while the air conditioning was running, but I find this to be endearing. Where better to unwind than in front of the flames?
A fire holds a multisensorial appeal. We watch the flames grow and flicker. We hear the ssss and snap of burning wood. Most of all, we bask in the warmth of the fire. We are pleasure-seeking creatures, and our bodies love to be warm.
Whether by a fire or not, until next time, enjoy your age!
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