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Stoking the embers of memory

Flames spurt and flicker. Through countless winters we hold our hands to this fire: to the incomparable particular warmth of this living heat. In those farmhouse days, when the wind rattled through the old building and snow swept wave upon wave across fields, the great log fire gathered us round. While draughts shuddered heavy curtains, we basked through winters and careless childhood almost rejecting the life of this fire. The burden of wood collecting , our pitifully small contribution, became uninteresting. Rebellion seethed and muttered in the booted, mittened world. Even at that age we were unable to connect this small task with the evening comfort. Almost rejected but not quite. Through years of living with the convenience of piped heat, memories have smouldered to keep alive a respect and longing for the liveliness of a log fire.

They glow deep and reach far, these embers of memory, until once more they warm the present. Yet the fire is more than burning of wood and crumbling white ash. Even in these switchhappy times it compels a fascination which has to do with how we once felt hundreds of years ago in the childhood of our culture. How we felt in the infancy of our own days. The symbol of fire, when it appears in literature, painting, music, is one of the easiest to recognize and comprehend. A swift light allusion is all that is needed to fill the inner vision with a kaleidoscope of images that stretch back and back, and pile feeling upon feeling. The problem must be how to use the image so that it takes the reader or viewer in the intended direction rather than setting up a whole complexity of threads. In the bush that burned for Moses, the fire the Hebrew boys passed through, the Pentecostal flames; in smoke-filled words that gust from the great halls of Beowulf and the Icelandic Sagas; from the flames of martyrs and Dante's Inferno to the crystal frost/fire of Little Gidding, comes the heritage of fire.

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So we opened up the fireplace and off we go these sharp bright days to saw and haul with purposeful satisfaction. The fire is lit and the hearth is its warmth and movement we are drawn together and linger through winter evenings, idly aware of the flickering mystery that lies very near the surface; lazily allowing memories and feelings of drama and significance to stir and spark as the dry wood flares and burnt- out husks dwi ndle into ash.

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