I started a fire in the woods when I was a kid. My family was living in Virginia at the time in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had been dreaming for weeks about building my own campfire, boiling water on an open flame, and cooking macaroni for my own dish of macaroni and cheese. Perhaps I had been reading too many books about the Boxcar Children. Perhaps I was tired of fighting with six other siblings at meal time for a fair helping of anything. Perhaps my imagination just got the better of me, and I decided to make my daydreaming come to fruition.
It had been a dry spring and we were on Easter break. The dogwoods were in full bloom, the woods teeming with life. I found a small clearing off a path about two hundred yards from the house. I pushed away the dead leaves, then piled sticks in a heap the way I had seen it done in Girl Scout manuals. I lit the fire with matches I'd procured from the house. The fire leapt into action, helped by the dead leaves I had heaped on top for tinder.
In my haste to get the job done, I had failed to realize that a few leaves were still close by. They led to other piles of leaves that led to the wooded area beyond. The pot filled with water for the macaroni was not enough to stop the energetic flame. Before I knew it, flames were licking the bottoms of saplings and spreading quickly.
Terrified, I ran up the path to the house, losing a sneaker in the process, and reported that there was a fire in the woods. Eventually, the fire trucks arrived and the fire was suppressed fairly quickly. Of course, I was punished and sent to bed without dinner. My brothers and sisters, who so often fought with me, pitied me and came up to my room bringing handfuls of puffed wheat, some vegetables, and whatever else they could muster without being caught by my mother's watchful eye.
The guilt and self-loathing I felt kept me from going outside much that spring. It especially kept me from roaming past the place of carnage. I thought of all the squirrels and birds I had killed. I thought of the charred trees and plants. Thankfully, the damage was confined to about a 20-foot radius.
It wasn't until a year later that I happened up the fateful path, where once again, spring had come to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I stopped to view the charred spot where my imagination had gone wild and was taken aback at the abundance of green that had replaced it. The guilt I had been harboring all those months melted as I saw the healthy, lush vegetation that had replaced the devastation. The birds chirped as they had before and the squirrels leapt from branch to branch. The fire had mulched the wooded floor and fed the surrounding trees that had survived with new life and growth. Nature, in all its wisdom, had forgiven me for my transgression.
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