Minutes. Maybe even singular. That’s the timescale we’re talking about here. Possibly no more than sixty seconds from the time my little “controlled” burnpile jumped its ring of rocks and caught the surrounding leaves to the time I walked around the side of the house to get some more tarpaper. In that minute the fire ate itself a six-foot diameter circle. While shocked at the blackened ring of immolation, the fires themselves that formed the ring didn’t look very daunting. So at first I tried to just stomp them out. My feet, disproportionately large for a man only five six and steady fodder for mockery my whole life, only served to spread the impending disaster. The pillowy piles exploded and my podiatric paddles poofed with each panicked punt as if plunged into puffy pyrotechnic poodle pelts. Next I bolted for the rake. My thought was that if I could rake the flaming piles back within General Sherman’s Circle they could finish off the fuel they had and save Savannah. At first it seemed to work. Then to my horror as I was knee deep in a burning pile of brush and leaves that some fool had left at the border of their property, I turned to notice that the line of fire I thought I had defeated had jumped the line and was now windborne from my raking.
“It’s getting away from me, Dad!” I pointed out, most likely, unnecessarily to God. All around me the woods were burning. Small pines were starting to catch. The first neighbor’s house in the path was only twenty feet away from the rapidly growing, rapacious demon I had given birth to. I needed water but the house I was working at hadn’t had water since the pipes froze sometime last winter. I ran for the nearest neighbor that I knew was home, slipping and falling as I went. There were no introductions.
“Do you have a hose I can use?”
“Why sure, lemme…”
“My fire got out of hand!”
“Oh! It’s right around back!”
As it turns out, they had two hoses, already linked. I was hoping it was going to be long enough as i stumbled back to the rising flames, slipped and fell again. “Should I call the fire department?” She called to my running back.
“Probably a good idea.” I answered, not really wanting to need them but knowing the genie was out of the bottle and chaos theory had left Jurassic Park and taken field trip to the Poconos. Now I’ve worked on houses all over, most of them nearing the million-dollar mark. I’ve borrowed lots of hoses. One thing I’ve seen a lot of is poor water pressure. Here, in a little prefab in the hills, which gets its water from a little pumping station down the road, the pressure was phenomenal. Go fig. From then on it was just fire versus water. Time felt very fast but before I had half the circle drowned, a young man appeared with a rake and began pulling back everything the hose wouldn’t reach. I took the moment to grab a hose my house did have and got very wet adding it to the chain with the water going. Another lad with a rake showed up. He raked half-heartedly for a minute as if disappointed that he wouldn’t get to throw on his turnout gear and chop something with an axe and then called off the Dalmatians. Then he was gone too. The first lad borrowed the hose, something he’d probably been wanting to do since he arrived. While he was using his extensive training to carefully aim the garden hose at some remaining hot spots, I surveyed the scene.
From edge to edge the swath of black was now fifty-one feet. That’s no exaggeration, I measured. My throat was acrid and dry and my pants were soaked. My boots were black and my face and hands felt singed. I felt like a fool crossbred with a moron and slathered with some idiot.
I have been using November to remember to be thankful. Each day giving thanks for some blessing of God’s small or big. Tonight, I’m thankful for long hoses, good water pressure, an accurate self image and for mercy on a fool. I think I’ve got a new perspective on the Gospel.