Saturday, November 26, 2011

Burn Piles

Driving home today through a half-inch of snow, I noticed four different places where burn piles had been set on fire.  Each one had a satisfied man tending it.  I got the feeling they'd had a hard time waiting until the first snow fell to light the fires. 

Burn piles are common around here.  They are built by hand or machine when trees are cut down for safety, for firewood, or in logging.  Everyone loves a good bonfire, but burn piles are mostly a guy thing, and you can tell something about a guy by looking at how he builds them.

An old pile in our field
Our friend John, for example, was a careful man who would never have lit a pile with only the first half-inch of snow on the ground.  He would have insisted on at least six inches before it was safe enough for him.  His burn piles were tall and narrow, constructed with only the unusable bits of tree left over after he had chopped the branches into kindling.  He covered them with squares of tarp to keep them dry as the snow piled up around them, and only lit them on a calm day.  John died over a year ago, and I'd give a lot to be able to see  one of his burn piles again.

Our own burn piles are very different.  They are tossed together carelessly and quite often never burned at all.  I like to think of little birds and animals taking refuge there, maybe building dens and raising families.  After a few years, the decaying leaves form enough compost for plants to take root and tangles of roses and wild raspberries grow up.  The goats eat on and around them, and they eventually disappear without any more effort from us.

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