When we first moved to the mini-farm, much of the land was covered with obnoxious thorn bushes. They were along the driveway, around the edges of the property, and a jungle of them on both sides of the creek. I always thought they were merely pointless and kind of ugly, but once I set up my disc golf course, they committed the unpardonable sin of attempting to eat my discs. Every time I threw a bad shot into a tangle of vines and thorns, I had to ask myself, “How much do I really want that disc?” I usually wanted it enough to leave behind bits of skin from my hands and arms, but once I threw a driver so deep into a Br’er Rabbit briar patch, I elected to cut my losses instead of my entire body and ordered two replacements from Amazon.
We also had some dead or dying trees. Those didn’t bother me as much until a big limb snapped one off one day and landed exactly where Sara had been standing a few minutes earlier. There was no wind, no warning, no apparent reason for a limb that had been attached for years to suddenly crash down onto the driveway. Just a SNAP-BOOM followed by me giving myself whiplash spinning around to see where Sara was.
Once the house was done and we could turn our attention to outdoor improvements, Chareva called one of her contractor buddies from the home-renovation project and he showed up with brave men bearing chainsaws. They put in some long days of hacking and sawing and dragging away bushes and trees. By dragging away, I of course mean creating huge piles of thorny debris on our front pastures. After coming home from work to find new and interesting hazards on my disc golf course, I asked Chareva what the @#$% those things were supposed to be.
“Those are the burn piles.”
“What’s a burn pile?”
“It’s a pile of stuff you burn.”
“Right. So when are they burning the burn piles?”
“They’ll have to come back for that someday.”
“Well, there’s too much green stuff in there now. We have to give it time to dry out, then we burn it.”
The burn piles were a huge improvement. Now instead of wondering where the @#$% my disc had landed inside some long row of thorny bushes, I knew exactly where it was: it was parked either high atop or deep inside one of the @#$%ing burn piles. I could usually spot it, and retrieving it was a simple matter of guessing which of the drying, thorny vines or spindly branches would hold my weight, climbing up onto the shifting pile while holding onto other thorny vines to balance myself, reaching into still another thicket of thorny vines to pluck out the disc, then climbing back down the pile – stepping backwards, of course.
Chareva once responded to my grumbles by asking, “Why don’t you just aim away from the burn piles?”
I immediately forgave this remark because she’s never played golf. My dad lost so many golf balls in the water hazard on the 17th hole of his local course, he once remarked that when he dies, he’d like be cremated and have his ashes poured into that hazard so can spend eternity with all his Titleists. Since my mom also played golf, she knew better than to ask, “Well, why don’t you just aim away from that water hazard?”
We occasionally talked about hiring an experienced crew to burn up the piles, but never got around to it. In the meantime, the piles sprouted weeds. Great. Now instead of knowing exactly where the @#$% my disc had landed in one of the burn piles, I only knew it was somewhere inside the @#$%ing burn pile. So while climbing onto the tangles of thorny vines, I had to push aside and yank away at the weeds to see inside the pile, hoping I wouldn’t accidentally grab a handful of thorns covered by weeds. My hopes were often dashed.
After talking recently to a guy who bush-hogged our back pasture, Chareva announced that we should just burn the piles ourselves. No big deal, people around here do it all the time, we just need to take some precautions. Oh, and we have to do it before October 10th. And we have to call the fire department and let them know we’re starting a fire.
At that point, I realized that as much as I hated those burn piles, I’d been resisting just picking a day and burning them because part of me was convinced I’d end up setting the forest behind us on fire and the state of Tennessee would respond by ordering me to move back to California. Faced with a deadline, I got over it. Well, I got over it after checking the forecast and seeing we were due for thunderstorms on Sunday and Monday. If I did set the forest on fire, Mother Nature might come to my aid.
On Saturday afternoon, we extended the garden house out the pastures and soaked the grass around the burn piles as a precaution. Then I splashed kerosene around the base of the first pile and lit it up.
Wow. The dried branches and vines ignited like oversized matchsticks. The heat was far more intense than I’d expected, the flames were tall and roaring, and I began worrying all over again that I was about to set the nearby forest on fire. Then within minutes, the pile started to fall in on itself and the flames shrank. The vines and branches were kindling, not logs, and they were burning down in a hurry. It wasn’t long before that pile was mostly embers.
The second pile was much the same, but the third and biggest pile included most of the tree branches our crew had cut down. No quick burn-down for that one. Hours later, it was still ablaze. Some of the heavy branches and logs at the outer edge stopped burning, so I got a shovel and spent a good chunk of the early evening scooping up half-burned logs and tossing them into the center of the fire. I had to repeat the process several times as the fire burned toward the center. It got to be exhausting work.
I wanted as much of the debris as possible to burn away, but of course I wasn’t going to leave the fires unattended. I didn’t relish the idea of sitting outside in a folder chair for the next several hours, so while Chareva got the girls ready for bed, I drove my car out near the burn piles.
Chareva came out and sat with me for awhile. We each had a cold beer and chatted while staring at the flames. It felt a bit romantic, actually … sort of a cross between a date at the drive-in and a date sipping drinks in front of a roaring fireplace. But since we’ve been married for 12 years, the date ended when she began yawning at 10:00 PM.
She went inside. I sat in the car and listened to a book until 2:00 AM. The biggest pile slowly sunk in on itself but kept burning. When I felt myself fighting sleep, I knew it was time to put out the flames and go to bed. So I dragged the hose to each of the piles and doused them until there no visible flames or burning embers. That took another 40 minutes. I couldn’t believe how much water the biggest pile could absorb and still keep burning.
We’d been told there would be smoldering embers beneath the ashes for days. I could still feel heat coming from the biggest pile, but once I’d soaked it enough to snuff out everything that looked red or orange, I felt safe going to bed.
We didn’t get the predicted thunderstorms on Sunday, so in the afternoon I played nine holes of disc golf with Alana. One of my shots hooked into what had been the second burn pile a day earlier. All it did was kick up a little cloud of ash. Nice. Wipe the disc on the grass and move on.
Today an impressive thunderstorm did roll in and dumped water on the area all afternoon. I doubt even the big burn pile is still smoldering after that deluge, and best of all, the hard rain began washing away the ashes.
There are more thorny bushes around the property that we want to clear away, so we’ll be doing this again in the spring. As Chareva suggested while we were watching the fires on Saturday night, next time we should think about turning the occasion into a party and roasting a pig.