It’s a cool September evening. A wool shirt or a windbreaker feels just right.
Full darkness has come on now. Shards of the waxing moon wink intermittently through the leaves of old oaks.
We head for the fire pit in the recesses of the backyard with another couple, longtime friends. We have graduated to the yard from the house, where we shared brownies, chocolate ice cream and coffee. Simple fare for this impromptu gathering, arranged at mid-afternoon. It’s the kind of thing that comes easily with old friends.
Come over? Brownies and ice cream? Fire? Sure. What time?
I’ve pulled some firewood from a loose pile in the woods. A few split lengths of oak, but mostly small branches and twigs that summer’s storms have pruned from the maples and oaks. In the fire pit, I tuck some tendrils of birchbark under the tinder. One match, and the little flame spreads. Birchbark — how cool. What do people in other parts of the world use to kindle their fires?
Now the smaller twigs begin snapping and crackling. Flames lick at the larger branches. We’re good. We have fire.
What happens over the next couple of hours is so simple, so pleasant, so satisfying it’s difficult to fully articulate. The four of us have a friendship nurtured over nearly four decades, spawned from a chance encounter. We have raised our kids together, camped together, hunted together, fished together, paddled together. Our friendship was seasoned in the crucible of good times and hard times, against the backdrop of excellent health and a few close calls.
We bring all of that history to the fire with us, on an evening when summer is slowly slipping from our grasp. I feed the flickering fire. The conversation, like the woodsmoke, wafts into the night. Outside the circle of light, the yellow dog sniffs about, patrolling for scent undetected by mere human nostrils.
Something about a fire seems to connect us to nearly all of human history. In caves, on mountainsides, in jungles, on sandy shores, earlier versions of humanity must have circled around fires. To warm themselves. To roast haunches of early mammals. To have told stories of the hunt.
I toss another handful of small sticks on the fire, and for a minute or two, our faces are illuminated again, our features bathed in amber light.
Nobody bothers to check the time. Nobody wants to know.
Nor does any of us mention that this might well be the last fire of summer, as if saying so out loud might increase the chance that it will come to pass.