Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Fire has long been a friend of humanity. Perhaps that is what separated us from beasts, when we tamed fire. What made us human? What thing distinguished the first real human from all its primate ancestors before? Some say it was language, some say tools. Maybe it was fire? Are other primates afraid of fire like many animals are? Was it when a primate first allowed curiosity to conquer fear of fire that we became human? Fire keeps predators away. Was it the protection of the circle of light of the campfire that freed us from fear so that we could gather and learn to communicate and plan and think and dream? Indigenous people of North America used fire to keep the prairie from becoming woodland and to bring in game to hunt and to clear land to deny invaders cover from which to attack. Some say it was there at the edge of the circle of light made by the campfire that wild wolves scavenged human leavings and learned to accept the proximity of people and so the domestication of the dog began. Fire can be a blessing and fire can be a curse. A warm fire in the hearth or at the center of camp is comforting and soothing. A burn is the worst sort of pain a person can be asked to endure. A fire cooks food and lights our way and melts metals for our use but a fire can also destroy. Fire, tamed, used, is a good thing. Fire unleashed and allowed to burn out of control is a bad thing. When one speaks of fire, one may be speaking of actual flame, of the energy released in that state change, but often,when one speaks of fire, it is a euphemism for something entirely else. One can be alive with a fiery energy, one can speak with a tongue of fire, one can experience the spark of creativity to design or invent a new thing, or one's words can burn with passion or anger. Lovers hearts are aflame for each other. A spark of lightening can burn down the barn or light a prairie fire that leads to purity and renewal. How can you know for sure when you strike that match whether your flame will comfort or destroy?

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