The maddeningly sweet scent of burning wood lingered long after the billows of smoke had vanished, long after the flames had perished, long after the glowing embers of the fires has been extinguished and all that remained were bleached cinders under the moonlight.
It had seeped into my skin and i had carried it, along with ash residue, on my hair and my clothes. And as i stooped, with pen in my hand, over the paper that glimmered in the light, it brought back a floods of images.
My foot trapped into the mud as I had tried to leap over a ditch and slipped, a red breasted robin landing nervously on a frail branch, a multitude of wrens flying out in unison, the jet black plumage of a jackdaw hovering nearby, a wooden totem with carvings depicting a squirrel, a badger and an owl, the green sheen of rhododendron leaves still moist from yesterday’s rain, an oak overlooking the glen that bathed in the wan sunlight, another oak sheltering a rookery in the intricacy of its branches, tall dark pines oscillating in the soft breeze.It was on a certain Saturday morning of November that we, the fellowship of the Greenock cut volunteers, found ourselves once again, on a firkd trip of sorts, deep in the woods near Lochwinnoch, Katie, Breige, John, Eddie, Alan, Paul, his daughter and I, assembled around John the ranger, as if into a council of war, ready to begin the task of the day.
Another group of volunteers from the Castle Semple park had already left the marks of their toil. Heaps of rhododendrons branches freshly cut were lying, here and there, among the moss covered beeches and slender birches. The rich soil, trampled by several pair of feet into a black mud, glistened amidst the disturbed grass and decaying leaves.
Someone of our party had lighted a fire. Was it Paul, the newcomer ? Volutes of acrid smoke started to rise slowly in the still cold air while bright amber flames were licking the wet branches, twigs and leaves that we progressively fed them with. We gathered them near the fire, cut them in small pieces with lopers or with our before putting them into the blaze. Branches that we could not break, we sawed.
The blaze got bigger. It was bright and beautiful. It emitted low sounds of snapping and crackling while it radiated a strong heat that was strangely endearing in the cold morning air. This aura of warmth surrounded me, enveloped me, and it felt good. The primal comfort of the flame and the blissful light in darkness that Man has known since discovering and taming fire. And in the glow of the flames, everything else seemed to disolve into oblivion. The stir and rush of modern life dimmed into remote corners of my mind. My own inadequacy and clumsiness into finding a useful place in a world full of bitterness and rejection was irrelevant in that moment. My own sense of insecurity was forgotten in the blissful warmth.
Ash was flying around and over the flames, carried by the wind that had suddenly arisen, and twirling down like snowflakes. Birds fluttered high above, amidst the foliage of trees.
John, the ranger kindled another fire a few yards away, beyond a line of trees and wild vegetation. It consumed yet other stacks of discarded rhododendrons limbs, twigs and leaves that we sacrificed to the flames in order to protect the native species and protect the delicate habitat of the woods.