We have a fire pit in our backyard that we share with our neighbors, and last night we used it for the first time. It was E’s birthday. We spent the afternoon in the park and then she, her husband, and a few other friends came over for drinks and smores. It’s already starting to get cool here in Detroit: evenings in the fifties (that’s low teens if you’re outside the US) – legit sweater weather, perfect for a fire at the end of a long day.
Something I noticed for the first time last night was now little eye contact there is around a fire. We talked to each other but we stared at the flames. It’s called soft fascination, E said, into the fire. It happens with clouds and rustling leaves, too, a lot of things in nature. You can leave the fire and come back to it without feeling like you’ve missed something, without needing to pick up where you left off. You can tune out partially and bathe in the variant light, and at the same time hone in on specifics, like how flames in different sections can flicker at different speeds. How smoke swirls and the heat-side of a new log fissures. How the charcoals fall off the bottom and pulsate orange-red. Fire’s interesting in a different way than a TV or phone, is more a flat surface you set your attention on than a hole it falls into. Fire seems to work on its own channel, visual white noise with a little extra something.
That extra something that makes it softly fascinating comes, to me, from a mixture of its patterned unpredictability and egolessness (if you’ll allow me get buddhist-jargon-y for a moment). All fires are fire-like but no two fires are the same. And a fire doesn’t demand us the way that a book demands to be read or a game demands to be played or a person demands to be loved (maybe “desire” is a better word). All a fire wants is air and fuel; all it wants is to exist. Not even that. A fire doesn’t really cares if it exists or not. It exists if the conditions are right and if they aren’t, then it goes without complaint.
That’s a good a motto as any, I think.