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Moths to a Flame 

The text was simple: “HEY, I’m burning a bunch of shit at the property. Anyone is welcome to join.” 

It came from a good friend (we’ll call him “Teddy,” but the names of individuals have been changed to protect the innocent), who owns a lot of acres of land out in the middle of the county, and it was sent to our Whiskey Wednesday group chat—the guys that used to get together weekly to ride bikes or ski depending on the season. I don’t like to speak for the whole crowd of gentlemen on that text string, but I’m willing to guess that it was easily the most exciting text any of us had received in 2024. 

More details came later in the day from “Teddy.” 

“There will be an excavator, diesel fuel, and leaf blowers to stoke the fire.” 

It was all very enticing, but the extra info was unnecessary. He had us at “burning a bunch of shit.” Most of us RSVP’d “yes” immediately, which was a small miracle all on its own. It’s hard to get my group of friends together for planned adventures these days; it takes weeks of massaging various schedules to get a group ride on the books. But we were all willing to drop everything on a Tuesday night to stand around a giant fire and stare into its flames. 

And it was one hell of a fire. Teddy had some trees and brush cleared from his land to make way for a septic system and all that oversized kindling had to be disposed of. Burning it seemed like the most logical solution, so he used an excavator to create a burning pile in an open field. Imagine a massive pyre for a Viking king—that’s the scale we’re talking about here. Diesel fuel helped get the fire going and the excavator was used to continuously feed the flame with fresh pieces of large lumber. 

Because a dad can never pass up a good teachable moment, some of us decided we should bring our sons to experience the inferno. There were a handful of kids there, from ages 9 to 15. It’s tough to find a single activity that can entertain a group of boys with that sort of age spread, but burning a bunch of sticks in the middle of a field seemed to do the trick. 

We taught them important life lessons, like how to make Molotov cocktails out of Miller Lite cans, and the danger of an open flame climbing up a stream of gas. 

“I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and watch them lead the way.” Or something like that. 

It sounds haphazard, but there were safety measures taken; an emergency bucket of water was always on hand. And I think it’s important to put things like “danger” and “irresponsibility” in context. Yes, we created a large fire, but at no point did anyone try to jump over that fire with a bicycle. We talked about it, but we didn’t do it. I would like the jury to acknowledge our restraint. 

Soon, our teenage boys were driving the excavator, picking up logs with its long arm like that claw game at the arcade, and the smaller children were operating leaf blowers, which acted like jet fuel on the flames. It had a Lord of the Flies vibe to it, and the whole scene had all in attendance smiling from ear to ear.

I don’t want to be closed-minded and presume that big fires are strictly the territory of dudes, but most of the evidence I’ve gathered over my 47 years on this earth seems to suggest just that. It’s possible that women have simply evolved past the point of being mesmerized by an open flame. I asked both my wife and daughter if they’d like to join us and stand around that giant pile of burning logs, and they declined immediately.  

Conversely, when I asked my 15-year-old son about the adventure, he responded instantly with a resounding “of course.” 

My daughter saw some videos of the situation the next day and asked with honest concern, “Who was in charge out there? Were there any moms?” 

There were no moms present. It was just a bunch of guys, from age 9 to 52, gazing into the heart of a raging fire, contemplating big picture concepts like mortality and the precise melting temperature of an aluminum can. 

It had been a while since I had hovered around a fire like this. I blame the pandemic, which has had some curious side effects. A lot of people have reverted to their pre-pandemic ways and are going to the mall instead of camping and riding bikes on weekends. You’ll notice a lot of people are selling the bikes and RVs they purchased during that two-year hiatus from real life. You can get campsites at popular campgrounds again. Personally, I haven’t given up on the adventures or the camping, but I have stopped having as many backyard campfires. That was our go-to way of socializing during the pandemic. We’d sit outside around a fire pit, drink cold beverages, and try not to get each other sick. We did that a lot. We did that so much that I haven’t had a fire in my backyard in probably a year. Pardon the pun, but I think I was burned out.   

But this giant burning pyre re-stoked that primal interest in a bonfire. Maybe it was the size of the thing—at certain times throughout the night, the flames reached second-story status—or maybe it was the heavy machinery involved in the process. But I like to think it was the camaraderie of the event. A group of friends dropped everything, drove an hour into the middle of nowhere, to burn some shit together in the middle of the week. I could use more of that these days. 

Cover photo: photo courtesy of the author.

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