smoke

Mike Diamond mdiamond at sumter.awod.com
Wed Dec 28 12:56:54 EST 1994


rbear at oregon.uoregon.edu wrote:
: Smoke
:  
: rises, most times, as long as it has heat,
: before the wind can hurry it along the creek
: down among the flood plain oaks riverward.
: I like it best when it is fir or cedar,
: but there are times when these smells cost
: in memory of fear. We fought fire in troops
: of ten or twenty, when I was young, and it was
: wonderful work. Smoke rose in holocaustic
: grandeur to the sun, casting cold shadow
: on the landing, or raced along on the onshore
: breeze, filing through tall firs like ghosts
: of old secesh regiments. Flame would follow 
: after, tasting slash and brush, or licking
: at the hollow wounds of dry snags. We were
: a water crew, laying out grey loops of heavy
: canvas on the slope, snapping together brass
: tees and wyes, clicking valves, riding 
: the arching hoses down hill into the burn,
: confident our nozzles would find out
: all the banked root fires and quietly baking
: duff. We knew the colors of our smokes:
: white for steam, a fresh burn on fresh leaves,
: fast-moving, but easy to mist down; grey
: for hidden fire, buried in earth,
: a hot spot, bad to step in, but easy to
: cannon out; blue for trouble, seasoned wood
: burning hot, hard to knock down, thirsty
: for more water than the truck could send.
: We loved the fires. I carried an old canteen
: nested in a boiler, and brought along tea.
: If water ran out, we'd gather round a hot spot
: snapping twigs, and blow up a bit of flame
: for brew, tasting tea and sugar, watching
: across the slope how brightly burning spots
: would mimick fields of stars
: as I have seen in lakes on moonless nights.
: We told our stories, then; I had this one:
:  
: Once, when I worked a trail alone beside
: a sulking burn, the wind turned full
: around, east to west, and the grey smoke
: went hot and blue, yet did not rise
: but hunkered down, smothering the trail.
: I felt around in darkness for the hazel hoe
: I'd lodged in a stump nearby, then crawled
: downhill, hoping to find air. Air!
: Lungs are such flimsy things, like flowers
: turned outside in, and ready to wilt
: at any insult. My crawling would soon turn
: to aimless thrashing, then the lying still
: and no more knowing. What to do? "Go out
: sidehill," a voice seemed to say. "Bury
: yourself and live." I understood. Among
: the old growth trees to my right my last
: strength crept, to find a hemlock nurse log
: crumbling into duff. The hoe struck deep,
: and gouged a bowl of humus from the slope.
: I shoved my face in, breathing smokeless joy
: from aerated shards of pith and bark. How
: long I lived as mole or worm I do not know,
: but when the sun returned to warm my ears,
: I rose like Lazarus, stinking, from the earth,
: and shouldered hoe, and went back to my work.
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: Richard Bear                                         rbear at oregon.uoregon.edu
: University of Oregon    Stony Run Farm                  all disclaimers apply
: WWW home page: http//www-vms.uoregon.edu/~rbear        born to raise tomatoes
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