Burning it up

The pile of brushwood, prunings and larger branches has been growing steadily for a month. At this time of year, pruning shrubs is one of the best jobs to get on with. Since I started work at The Farm I’ve been pruning, coppicing and hedge-clearing like a man possessed – and generating large quantities of debris as a consequence. Fortunately, there is a piece of ground adjacent to the Walled Garden which can be used as a ‘holding area’ for all this material. And so the pile has accumulated: corrugated sheets of dead ivy, branches of hawthorn and spindle, all mounding up. On top of this, there was already a substantial pile of ‘stuff’ left by my predecessor, mainly leaves but also some large alder boughs, and lots of holly. Oh, and any number of crisp packets. My predecessor was fond of crisps it seems.

The pile of rubbish extended all along the length of the wall 

And so the time had come for a bonfire. In fact I’d already had a couple of goes, but failed to give myself time to get the fire going properly: and a bonfire needs time. Yesterday I determined to do the job properly, and built a neat pyre of kindling and newspaper as the base for by conflagration. Away it went, and I slowly, methodically added material from the rubbish pile. 

The bonfire, alight but yet to really get going. 

The key to a good fire is to build a really hot ‘heart’ so that more or less anything that is then added will catch light, even green and damp material. Over the course of five hours I kept the fire going with sufficient heat to burn the entire pile. Under the heap I found several big branches and beams, charred from previous fires, and these kept the heat going while the flimsier stuff burned in an instant.

Crackling with fierce heat, more or less anything will now burn

I must have pitchforked about a ton of material onto the fire in the course of the day, but it was deeply satisfying to see the ground clearing and order being restored. And the task of tending the fire, rearranging branches to ensure they burned, poking and prodding, is a wonderful one. Fire exerts such a deep, atavistic fascination for humans, I think, and the opportunity to have a really good blaze is never one to be passed over. There was a therapeutic – nay, spiritual – dimension to it as well – coming, as it did, just after the midwinter days, burning away the old and clearing space for the new.

Not a great photograph, but I liked the juxtaposition of the new – Galanthus nivalis – with the burning-away of the old.

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