I went fishing with our grandson, Walt, and some other family members one afternoon in May. A bass that would have likely become the new state record broke my line and my heart. Even with the tragic loss of a trophy fish, it was a splendid outing until my wife called.
“Our side yard is on fire,” she said, more calmly than I would have expected. “I’ve been trying to wet it down, but there’s hardly any pressure. Water is pouring out from where a PVC pipe melted. I don’t think the fire will keep spreading, so you don’t have to come home.” Despite her assurances it was fine for me to keep fishing, my keen perception suggested that might not be a good idea. It was an easy decision because I knew that largemouth bass would have his lips sealed for a while.
When I got home, Jane was in our side yard flower garden with a hose which was only yielding a trickle of water. The garden is about one third of an acre, a tree-shaded place where my wife has spent untold hours planting, pruning, and weeding. It’s full of azaleas, ferns, daylilies, and a variety of plants I can’t name. There are also some comfortable wrought iron chairs beneath an oak tree that make a great place for sipping lemonade and counting blessings.
The back half of the garden is still lovely. Looking at the scorched front though, it’s hard to believe such devastation came from what once had seemed nothing more than a little smoke.
Several days earlier, I’d gotten a burn permit. A massive sweetgum tree had toppled into the edge of the garden when Hurricane Michael came through in October of 2018. Rather than taking a conventional approach by sawing it into short pieces and hauling them off, I had an epiphany – The tree can be burned where it fell. We had added limbs, leaves, and other yard debris on top of it for two years. Most of the huge trunk lay outside the heavily strawed flower beds. It seemed like a solid plan.
As the sun went down on the day of the burn, the fire was almost out and there wasn’t much remaining of the debris that had been piled. The sweetgum, however, still had a long way to go. There were no visible flames, only a little smoke from its smoldering underside. The source of the smoke was about eight feet from the pine straw, so I left it alone rather than drenching it with water.
Two more days went by as the sweetgum kept slowly sizzling. I watched it carefully, thinking I might add some fallen limbs and rekindle the fire. Jane and I checked it several times each day and nothing much changed. When I looked at the tree before going fishing, there were no obvious sparks or floating cinders, nothing except a hint of smoke.
Jane went to Cordele for a couple of hours. When she returned, fire was spreading through her beloved garden. The worst loss was twenty years’ worth of plants and hard work. Incidentals included a melted water line, two hoses, and the tire on her favorite wheelbarrow.
On a personal note, if anyone has a good used tire, please get in touch with me as soon as possible. With nothing but steel to roll on, the wheelbarrow is hard to push. If Jane gets behind with her yardwork, I’m concerned it could adversely affect the kitchen.
Nothing has been lost that can’t be replaced. Another positive note is we now have excellent access to some pesky Smilax vines that were inextricably intertwined with flowers and shrubs. Hopefully, we can dig up the tubers and get rid of them.
We have a lot to be thankful for, but it makes me wince to see the burned shrubs and flowers and know I could have easily prevented it. Prevention is almost always preferable to fixing what’s broken. And some things when broken can’t be mended.
That smoldering log became a problem because of my carelessness. Temptation often works the same way. It can evolve if ignored. Most temptations begin with a wisp of smoke that appears to be rather harmless and perhaps somewhat intriguing. We see no urgency in quenching a tiny spark.
The charred plants in our flower garden, however, remind me that unseen embers can subtly transition into fire. Something that was beautiful is now badly scarred. And the devastation came from what once had seemed nothing more than a little smoke.