It’s 2013 now, so that means its been 22 years now, since I was a firefighter in the small county department of Dinwiddie, Virginia. I was a wilder woman back then. It was before I became a mother, before I even knew that was in my future. I did it for two years, and I savored every moment. Not that hanging on the back of a truck was all that fun – our volunteer department had two trucks – and both were outdated models from the 1960’s that required firefighters to stand up on the back, secured in place only by one belt. You had to be a little crazy to be back there, hanging on and shifting your body weight with the truck as the driver made turns, or as he dipped down, and climbed up hills. I remember the feel of the heavy boots and the very heavy turn out gear, and its musty smell. How my face would sweat under the SCBA mask, my back would hurt carrying the 20 pound tank. I remember when it was done, unclasping the mask, releasing the seal, and taking the first deep breath through my nostrils, of smokey air, and my eyes stinging just enough for me to be aware that where I was standing had recently been an inferno. I didn’t mind. I also didn’t mind that I was the only female in the bunch. None of us did. Our differences never seemed to cause a ruckus when it was time to get down to business.
I grew to love the fire burning, just a little. I understood that it had it’s purpose. It was, in a way…a living, breathing thing. I saw it eat, and grow, and die. I couldn’t visualize fire as one entity. Still can’t. I can still smell it in my nostrils, after so long, it’s locked in my olfactory mind. When I was walking in the smoldering woods after a wildfire, after the blaze was put out, looking for hot spots under hidden brush, I saw it as an entire species, living within one being. I saw it as an extension of Earth. Burning away the old, to clear a way for new life. I saw it take life away.
Now I’m much older. When ever there is a crisis in my life… a fire on my horizon… all I have to do is close my eyes and go back… and I remember what to do. Step into a protective layer of clothing. Grab onto a lifeline, and hang on for the bumpy ride. Make sure I can breathe. Prepare for a long walk. Put out the fire with an undeniable force, and then pick through the remains with something smaller. And when its all done, step out of the protective layer, and everything becomes normal again.
As the new year begins, I’ve already – just two days into 2013, encountered fires that need to be put out – to burn away the old and clear a way for new life. Change always burns. Burn the bridges that need to be burned. Remember how it smells, tastes, and feels.
Now, let the ashes of the past feed the soil where you plant the future.