Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Many Blondes Does It Take to Build a Fire?

 Evidence that one time I did build a fire...

I was never a big connoisseur of blonde jokes, but this past Saturday, I was fairly certain I might be living in one. My sister and her two girls joined me in Santa Ynez for the night, and after a nice long day of antiquing and wine-tasting (with my 18-year-old niece as our chauffeur), we settled in for a quiet evening of spaghetti and Bridesmaids.

The temperature was pretty chilly for us wimpy Californians, so one of the first things we aimed to do was start a fire. When Mr. W and I were up at the house a few weeks ago, he had a local guy deliver a giant load of firewood, so as far as I knew, we had everything we needed to stay warm.

For the record, I DID start a fire on my own when I was at the house in December, so I know it is possible. But as I piled my logs on the iron grate and crumpled my newspaper and watched the flames travel upward from my ignition spots, the end result—again and again—was a pile of ash.

A former girl scout, I suddenly remembered that I needed to build a little tee-pee with kindling under the bigger logs to really get things going. So I retrieved the axe from the closet and set out to split some smaller pieces of wood off the big chunks.

Have you guys ever used an axe before? It seems like it would be really simple, right? Totally not. I could barely get the damn thing to stick in the wood, let alone split it into halves or quarters. Mega fail.

My next best option was to use cardboard from some of the moving boxes. So I started again—sister and nieces gathered around, also trying to help—and this time, I caught one of the bigger logs on fire. As it burned, I noticed it was resting on the floor of the fireplace, so I grabbed the poker and tried to prod it back up onto the grate. As I did so, it split in half. And then the fire went out again...

It was around this time that Mr. W texted, so I had my younger niece pull him up on Skype to counsel us. He quickly became irritated with our ineptitude and told me to, "Go get some fricking pine cones and light those under the wood."

My sister headed out into the night (I'm not sure where exactly) and when she returned, she said, "I couldn't find pine cones, but I found this!" and held up what looked like a single piece of straw. One stick. After being outside for several minutes. Good work.

After we berated her heavily, she went back outside armed with the flashlight. This time, when she returned, she had an armful of pine cones and needley branches. But according to her, something—perhaps a bird of prey or a wee mountain lion—growled at her from up in the tree while she was combing the ground. So she had to scream and run back to the house before she could collect more kindling.

We tried to light the pine cones and they just fizzled.

Starving and frustrated, we gave up and ate dinner. But I couldn't stand the fact that we hadn't been able to make it work, so fueled by another glass of wine, I began trying again. I built another cardboard tee-pee and kept feeding it until the big logs caught fire. Mission blondely accomplished.

We made s'mores and all was right in the world. 

Having lived through this treacherous saga, I know now that four blondes does not equal fire-building abilities. And that kindling should be gathered during daylight hours when the racoons and turkey vultures are less likely to bite you in the jugular and carry you back to their nests.

Good lessons for country living, I think.


  1. Gots me one word for ya: Duraflame. :)

    I'm not even sure what to say about having an online consultation about starting a fire over Skype. I'm sure there's some brilliant philosophical discussion to be had there about the lines crossing between modern man and ancient skills, but I leave it to a better writer than I...

  2. And you forgot that you need a metal trash can for the ashes, Einstein.... Dad was not pleased that you started to put ashes in the regular trash, and then went into a tale about his old neighbors that burned their house down by doing that.

  3. Lighter fluid! hahaha, I'm kidding. Then your whole house would go up in flames and that wouldn't be funny. Not one bit. I like your determination, girl, and am glad you got the fire lit, eventually.

  4. I leave the fire making to Darcy. I'm not good with hot things (prone to burning as I've had 4 burns in my lifetime). The teepee is a good trick!

  5. What IS it with fires in fire places? Sometimes I have no problem and others, I cannot make it work. I laugh that you had access to a Skype consultation because by that point I would have been no fun to talk to in my fire starting frustration!

  6. Maybe the glass of wine should have gone into the fire to start it! Did you think of checking
    E-How on fire starting?

  7. lol, easy fix babe:

    For $18 bucks you can start 144 fires like, "Voila!"


  8. GeekHiker - Haha I feel that your Skype/caveman fire-starter pondering would make a good Farside comic...

    Sister - Thankfully my Santa Ynez neighbor emailed me this week so I know the house didn't burn down. And I have to wonder if Dad's story is akin to "I had to walk uphill both ways to school."

    Nilsa - Lighter fluid crossed my mind! But I was being too stubborn to cheat. I totally wanted the satisfaction of starting it the old-fashioned way.

    Sizzle - I think that whole burning thing is an Aries issue, isn't it? I feel like I've read that somewhere...

    LesleyG - I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one!

    Anonymous - I should have spit a stream of wine out of my mouth and lit that on fire like in the circus...

    Chantel - That is brilliant! Thank you for sharing! I may start turning to you with all my country living questions. :)

  9. I have no idea about fires either. My parents have fires outside, and a gas fireplace inside. It seems like a fine art. I'm extra happy we have electricity and indoor heating :)


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