Maybe I have a flair for the dramatic, but it is a little more complicated than the title suggests. Our house was in such a rural area that there was no trash service. If you really wanted to, you could pay a company a few hundred bucks a year for a once a week refuse pickup. But most people in our area were farmers, farmers without the inclination to waste good money on trash. So, most people would let metal rust in a duly appointed part of their property and burn the rest of their junk in various contraptions.
For a while, my parents tried to be environmentally conscious—which meant that instead of burning our trash, we would have it hauled off to the local trash mountain overlooking a nearby creek. How the EPA could have approved this mountain is a mystery. On one side of the road, bulldozers would push garbage ever higher; gas vents would burn continuously only 10 feet away from the lower course of the idyllic creek that ran by our house. Now, whether it was because my dad got tired of hauling the trash up our quarter-mile lane, or he just didn’t want to pay for something he thought he could do himself, or maybe a good mix of both, we stopped paying for the trash service.
That’s how two cow panels—cow panels are 16-feet-long walls of thick, four gauge, wire running crosswise whose ends can be attached to posts to have a quick fence and secure field—had been curved around to make a circle. This circle was near the center of Shrek and Sweetie’s field, almost under a young black walnut tree. I believe the thinking was that the animals would keep the grass down. This would reduce the risk of any potential fire spreading out off the ring’s base. As to the flammable young black walnut tree’s proximity, I believe the thinking was absent.
So, one summer day, my dad and I hauled the final two or three bags down to the trash ring, as we called it. we lit a fire before going off to salvage wood for a tree house I wanted to build. If this all sounds too Rockwellian, just wait. It was a blistering day, and ignoring my dad’s advice to wear boots, I had opted to wear my Converse All-Stars, since they were lightly constructed and weren’t so hot on my feet. Within ten minutes of working to pry apart a fallen barn, I stepped on a nail that went clear though the comfortable, cool, and thin sole of my All-Stars.
As we began shuffling back to the house to assess the damage, we noticed the smoke from the fire ring had begun to create a shape reminiscent less of those nice nights around the campfire where the cloud rises in a calm column towards the stars and more like the high and drifting plume of an S.O.S fire. That’s when we heard mom panicking.
It’s worth noting here that my mom had 3 modes: overwhelmed, alarmed, and panicked. While she mixed them up a lot, the last two were by far the most common. Having become inured to a combination of these emotions, it was always tricky to tell when to respond in kind. Halfway back to the house we realized that her panic was, in this instance, justified. The fire had crept out of the circle and was making its way insidiously through the low grass of the horse field towards the high grass of the hay fields, which were separated from the forest by the small creek that divided our land. I was sent up to the house to dress my wound, while the rest of my family began to fight the fire with brooms, rakes, and shovels.
In most farms, there would always be a spigot by any animal enclosure to make watering easy, but this house had always been more about gardening. The only outside sources of water on our land were the creeks and one proud spigot for the flower beds in front of the house which was on a small hill to avoid flooding.
I had just gotten the shoe off my punctured foot when I started to hear cries from my family that they needed the hoses. The fire was now out of control. I unevenly ran out the door, my half-shod situation creating an ungainly, loping run. Quickly, I hooked up the only two hoses that we had, and began to run around the house towards Shrek and Sweety’s field. I only made it part way down the hill before the hoses went taught and my feet flung out from under me, adding a sore ass to my skewered foot.
For a while, we tried a bucket line from the hoses to the field, but the distance was too great. The only thing that saved us from having to call the fire department was the creek, which stopped the fire from spreading further and into the forest, preventing an utter disaster. With the distance narrowed, we were able to use the creek’s water to create a wet line of grass and damp down the flames.
The entire field was char. It was the closest I had ever come to so much flame. Every single fire I have lit for the rest of my life has included what seem to others ridiculous safety precautions. And while we did save the field, there was still the issue of the deep puncture in my foot which was now crammed with soot and dirt. In my flight to bring the water, I had forgotten to dress my wound or even wear both shoes.
The Doctor’s Office
Fearing infection, my mother’s overwhelmed-panic drove us to a local emergency clinic. The doctor determined almost immediately that I needed some hydrogen peroxide and a Band-Aid, but also threw in a tetanus shot probably to safeguard his medical license.
It was strange the way in which the receptionist and nurses looked at us. I suppose that they assumed our story about setting a field afire was either too fantastical or too stupid for them to take us seriously. It wasn’t until we had returned home that we realized our noses were rimmed in soot, our hair was disheveled and smelled of smoke, and our clothes were the comfortable kind you wear at home but not in public. We looked exactly like the type of people to set a field on fire—a hot mess.