01 February 2009

That « bonfire »

I probably oversold it. It wasn't an enormous conflagration, but just a little fire we had been planning to have for quite a while. It was, however, what is called un feu de joie — "a fire of joy" or a bonfire — in my eyes. The occasion was the first spring-like weather of 2009.

Getting a fire going in a pile of leaves and twigs

We've never before lived in a place where we could have a fire outdoors, other than in a barbecue grill. The neighbors on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, in Silicon Valley, or in San Francisco would have been up in arms. So an outdoor fire, even a little one, is still a big deal to me. It's good entertainment. Ah, life in the country! Everybody around here has a feu de jardin — a fire in the garden — a couple of times a year.

Throw on some boards when it flames up.

When we moved into this house, the garage and the garden shed were full of a load of boards, short and long, and some old wooden storage cabinets that were rickety and useless. We stacked a lot of that stuff out behind the garden shed, telling ourselves we would haul it all to the déchetterie, the recycling center, one day soon.

Now it's going good.

Five years later, we realized all those big long boards and old cabinets were still out there, disintegrating in the weather and growing mold and fungi. Late last summer, we dragged them out to burn them. We realized that the long boards were far too long to try to haul to the dump in our little Peugeot, so burning was the only way. But the weather didn't cooperate. Soon the fall rains started.

Stand back. It's pretty hot.

So we covered all the old wood with a big tarp as best we could to keep it dry, and we waited for an opportunity. Well, it finally came day before yesterday. The day was chilly but sunny. It hadn't rained in a week, so the ground wasn't too mushy.

As the fire burned, I gathered up all the grape vine trunks
that Callie has collected out in the vineyard this winter and
scattered around the back yard. This will be firewood for
the barbecue grill in summer or the wood burner in autumn.

Walt got a fire going in a pile of leaves. Then we started throwing some big pieces of cardboard, some pine cones and dead leaves we gathered up, and the boards on it. And we succeeded in burning up about 90% of what we wanted to burn. We use one of our vegetable garden plots as a place to burn yard waste and whatever else. That way, the ashes are there onto the ground, ready to be tilled in and become fertilizer.

Fire's almost done and all the old boards are gone.

It was pleasant to be outdoors all afternoon and it is really starting to feel like spring now, when the sun comes out. Of course, winter can come roaring back in February and March. In fact, there are predictions of snow in Saint-Aignan by Monday morning. We'll see.


  1. Since happenening upon it at 3am or so this morning, I have spent at least 6 hours perusing your and Walt's wonderful blogs. My route in was via the BBC news, and a story about the Ayatolla Khomeini's years in a small French village as an exile. Ahhh, my mind says, "a small French village!". The aged and sputtering memory engine then tries to remember the name of this delightful place. A look on the map near where I recalled it to be revealed Tah-dah, Ste. Aignan!

    A little Googling later, and up pops your blog (and Walt's). What a joy to read and a feast for the eye!

    About 20 years ago, my wife and I spent a few days there at the somewhat ambitiously named Grand Hotel. But they were delightful days full of wine and sun. I'll be back often to visit vicariously via your blogs. Thank you so much!

  2. A bit more...

    Reason for being up at 3am; dog deciding my face could use a bit of a clean-up, and, by-the way, as long as I'm up how about a cookie?. She is living the same tough life as does Callie.

    Bill Dettman
    Hampton, NH
    (and you call THAT snow?!)

  3. The Khomeini lived in Neauphle-le-Château near Versailles.

    BTW, I lived in the Bay Area also from about 1975 through 1988 and made my living as a software developer.


  4. Hello Bill, I realized I had misunderstood your comment about Khomeini. I also remembered that he lived near Paris back in the 1970s when I lived up there. Thanks for your kind comments.


  5. We do fires also, but not often. The last one we did was near our backyard creek, but in a clearing made for our new road. We don't have a shredder so we used the fire to burn up some old checks. It was quite satisfying, despite the fact that our kids thought we were wacko.

    I grew up in the days when we burned our leaves and my dad burned a little garden plot every year. The first crop was lettuce- bibb I think and we were in Kentucky which has some fine soil for gardening. Bibb lettuce is still my favorite.

    I enjoyed your bonfire and your sunrise, merci bien.

  6. Goes to show that there is a pyromaniac hiding in each and every one of us :-). Martine

  7. Aaahh.... great post. Anything about a warm, useful fire and I'm in :) It must have been nice out there in crisp, clear weather with the fire crackling and Callie running about.

    (It was fun reading about Bill from N.H.'s path to your blog!)


  8. I have fond memories of raking up leaves and burning them when I was young. Thanks for sharing the picks with us.

  9. What, no s'mores?!

    If you wish, you can light the big pile of garden debris in my backyard at the end of the month.


  10. We did a bonfire when we were over at Palluau at Christmas. We cleared a lot of the debris in the garden and mouldy stuff from the barn that I had been hoarding too long. Sue wrapped some potatoes in foil and left them in the embers for a half-hour or so - they tasted great as we had worked up quite an appetite out there.
    Incidentally, we usually do the winter bonfire in a flower-bed where we have been trying to clear out some lilies - the amazing thing is that by the spring, the lilies are shooting up stronger than ever!

  11. I was going through some of your old blogs (earthquakes, ile d'Oleron...) and was wondering if you had seen Michel Serrault in "the girl from Paris" I think in french it is "an hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps". It is a delighful movie and Jean-Paul Roussillon is terrific. I never get tired of watching it.

  12. Hello Nadège, by the way, do you put an accent on your name? I know I saw that Serrault movie but I would really like to see it again. I like Serrault, obviously, and I also like Mathilde Seignier. I don't specifically remember Roussillon but I looked him up and I share his birthday, March 5 (but not the same year).


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