With the onset of a few good days, the feel of sunshine against one's face is more than a body can stand. About mid-afternoon, Veloy decided to call the neighbors over and have an early evening wiener roast.
Spring fever must have been getting to everybody else too, because almost everyone she called showed up.As the sun went down and people stood around roasting marshmallows and nibbling on three different kinds of cake, I sat and looked into the fire and listened to the voices of my friends talking neighborhood small talk and to the sound of their kids in the background playing in the meadow.
There was still a lot of moisture in the burning wood. Every once in a while a log would pop like a bullet. For a minute I thought of the mood of this moment and its origins. My mind went back to my dad, to our house in the orchard and to spring pruning.
As soon as the frost was out of the ground, before the branches began to bud, Dad would be out with his ladder and pruning saw, going up and down the rows of apple trees in a ritual that took a couple of weeks every spring. For hours on end you could hear the sound of his saw against the steel-gray spring air, the crisp slicing tone of his pruners and the lacy wooden swish of tree limbs falling to the ground.
This was not a ritual we kids could completely avoid. I can still picture walking home from the bus stop and seeing my dad in mid-prune and what it meant for us.
"You kids change your school clothes and get out here as soon as you can," he would yell from the top of his three-legged ladder perch in the crown of one of the Jonathans. "We need to get these limbs piled up before dark."
We could write off playing after school for the next several days. The orchard, which we had been free of since apple-picking in the fall, was calling us back, and there was no ignoring its demands, declared in the sound of my father's voice.
In a clearing not far from the house, the limbs would pile up so high that we could no longer throw them to the top. Dad would come over and, resting the sawed end of the bigger limbs in the palms of his hands, vault them up onto the pile until, I swear, it was bigger than a house, with whole geographies of inner tunnels sculpted out of limbs, intertwined and twisted, knitted into a nest so thick you couldn't pull a limb out of it if you tried.
On a cool evening similar to tonight, Dad would stuff a wad of crumpled newspapers into the heart of the mountain of limbs and douse it with gasoline. Then he would take a match from his pocket, draw it quickly against the leg of his overalls and throw it into the pile.
Whoosh! In a sudden gush of flame, one side of the massive pile would explode, and the work of the past few weeks would be engulfed. For a while the sound and fury of it filled the sky. Sparks curled heavenward in a rising whirlpool of vented heat. It spit fire. It glowed white-hot at the core. Along the edges thin limbs curled and withered, then burst spontaneously into flame.
For the next hour it raged.
Slowly it calmed, however, to a glowing caldron of embers.
Meanwhile, Dad sat and whittled wiener sticks. As if on cue, Mom appeared from the house with a basket of food. If we were lucky there would be Kool-Aid in a two-quart bottle. If we were really lucky, a freezer of ice cream.
After a while, as we finished eating and the fire died down, it seemed that our feelings would also settle into a fine focus. It made you want to linger and not go into the house quite yet. After being cooped up all winter, being outside in the night was special, even with the chill in the air and the dampness in the ground. There was something very earthy about it.
Never dreaming the world would ever change, we would wrap our jackets tight against the coming night and feel the warmth of the fire against our faces. We would lie on a blanket together and listen to the fire pop and watch the sparks float up and mingle with the heavens' thousand other stars, until they finally melted away in their spiraling dance into the outer reaches of our awareness.