Saturday, January 30, 2016

What is it about Fire? - NOVA this week (January 30, 2016)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

I was watching a movie this week, Gettysburg if you must know. It’s an excellent movie about a horrible day. If you have not seen it, I recommend it, but the film is not precisely my subject.

There is a scene near the end, probably rather unremarkable to most, that just – gets me. I don’t mean puts a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes – there are other scenes that do that.

No, this scene is different and I am not confident I will be able to explain how or why.

Near the end, the battle over, General Longstreet (Tom Berenger), is sitting by a campfire, alone, unmoving, just staring – into the fire. Before long he is joined by General Lee (Martin Sheen), and the moment is over.

I cannot imagine the misery that Longstreet felt. But he sits calmly staring into the fire. He’s almost peaceful. And remember, he’s just witnessed close up and personal one of the bloodiest days in American war history. He just sent several thousand men to their doom.

But I love the campfire scene – I think perhaps because I’ve been there – staring into the fire.

Of course, I’ve never known anything close to the anguish that Longstreet must have felt, but I’ve sat alone at a campfire hypnotized by its slow destruction of the wood, comforted by its warmth, illumined by its light, calmed by its nocturne. There is something cathartic about it.

It causes me to wonder, what is it about fire? I’m pretty sure I won’t answer that to anyone’s satisfaction, but it’s a pleasing mystery to ponder. To have its full effect, it must be a campfire. A fire in the fireplace has its own charms, especially if the wind is howling, and the snow or sleet is tapping on the panes – but this speaks more of comfort and blessing and less of my place in the universe.

In the elements; in the wild; and yet a barrier from the wild this powerful gift the creator gave to man alone. Perhaps the campfire summons the ancestral call, the forgotten memories coded into my being that recall the fires of long ago when man was only learning his dominion.

And now? Now life is hectic, complicated. I am dominated by creation.

Perhaps I need a good fire.



  1. Perhaps there is a primal connection to our most primitive ancestry; Jung would suggest that all of our human past is part of our psyche (which we might now also refer to as a part of our DNA). In any case, fire is a paradox isn't it? It is survival and destruction within the same chemical reaction. Hmmmm.


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