When we finally become the owners of our wood, I thought, we will light a fire. Somehow, a fire would make the woodland our own, we would have arrived, it would be symbolic. As time dragged and contracts bounced round electronic networks, I began to lose patience. The wood was nearly ours. I couldn’t contain that primeval urge for fire anymore. On one trip to check out the boundary walls, I stuffed my pockets with kindling and a little cardboard flat pack of matches. My husband Mark, and our eldest son Joe, had gone off to take photos of a tree that had fallen over one of the boundary walls and the temptation was just too much. I gathered my other three children, and thought how exciting it would be when Mark and Joe returned and found we were keeping ourselves warm by a welcoming fire.
The children watched as I confidently showed them how to build an A-frame fire (I was a Girl Guide) and poke the kindling through to the middle. I asked them to gather some firewood and showed them how to stack it – small twigs at one end through to larger branches at the other. Then I got the packet of pull off matches from my pocket and lit one. It barely fizzled before going out. The next did the same. The next lit, but the kindling didn’t play game. I was going through the matches quickly. I don’t react well to frustration and I could feel my stress levels rising irrationally. The next match lit the kindling, only for it to burn out to glowing ash before lighting any twigs. The children were getting bored. I was getting cross. I emptied my pockets and put everything flammable I had in them on the tiny embers. Red twinkling rims moved slowly up the old shopping list, the match packet, the bits of old tissue. I used my last match. All I had to show for thirty minutes work was an acrid curl of black smoulder and a stress level six times higher than when I’d started. Mark and Joe returned. I didn’t draw my failed fire to their attention. We went home, and in retrospect, it felt right that my attempt to light a fire had failed. Our symbolic fire had to be lit in the presence of all of us.
In the end, we didn’t wait until we officially owned the wood. Four months after our offer had been accepted, we had a date for the completion of the sale, only to find the vendors had gone on their Christmas holidays. So, on New Years Day, with completion date close, we went to the wood. We chose a place from where we had a view out over the local landscape and I did light a fire. I won’t pretend it was perfect, (for a start, I had built it on a slope so the sausages kept rolling off our old barbeque grill into the embers as I tried to turn them), and the fire certainly didn’t light on my first attempt. This time, however, I had come better prepared with some dry wood as well as kindling and although it had taken time, and I’d felt quite stressed as the pressure was on, I had managed it.
Our first fire. It felt as though we had made that first step into another reality. There was a massive sense of something achieved, of something beginning. And as we sat munching tasty hot sausages from a local butcher, a lady bird appeared – on New Years Day. We took it as a sign that all would be well, and in homage to that first fire, we chose a ladybird to be the symbol for our wood.