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What is it that is so fascinating about fire? I’m not talking arson, just a nice, reasonable fire.

On my back patio, I have a fire pit. It’s a big metal bowl on four legs, in which one can build a fire (hence the “fire” part, not really sure about the “pit”). It also has a nice metal screen you can put over the top and allow the heat out but—hopefully—keep the hot ashes in.

I like to fill it up with wood, stuff a couple newspapers in the cracks, and set fire to it. [I also put in a “Fire Starter ®” log. Not sure why. At the end of the fire, there’s this block of goo at the bottom of the pit that would be unidentified if not for the fact that I know that’s where I put the “Fire Starter ™ log and is the only thing that didn’t burn.]

Why is it that’s so fascinating about staring into a fire? I have no idea.

This is especially true of guys. Maybe because of the destructive force. Maybe because just about everything is eventually susceptible to fire. Ask any little boy the number of things he has found that will burn and he can give you a long and frightening list. I’m a little boy at heart, though I’ve outgrown the desire to see how long it takes a can of Right Guard ® to become a dangerous weapon when heated. So I light my fires and watch it carefully while burning bits of twig and bark and old newspapers.

And, truthfully, I don’t just stare endlessly into it. But I do look at it a lot. Watching the flames lick at the wood, seeing the various colors of fire … it’s a fun show that costs almost nothing so long as you don’t burn your house down in the process, which is probably a serious bummer.

One of the things I like about a fire is that it draws people. Not only are the neighbors likely to look over the fence and make a friendly comment (like, “What the %$#@ are you burning?!?!”), my family will—sooner or later—come out onto the back patio and join me. There, we’ll talk about our day and tell jokes and, generally, have a better conversation than we’re likely to have in any other setting.

There are also foods that taste better over or around a fire like that. A hotdog cooked on a skewer, some S’Mores, a really cold drink that sends ice down your throat while you feel the heat of the fire on your hands. What I really like to have while at a fire is a product that I can’t seem to get to work: Jiffy-Pop Popcorn ©. It just seems to be beyond my skill level to get the foil top to puff up before the cardboard sides burst into open flames. The end result is a pan of blackened popcorn (that’s still more flammable than the Fire Starter log) with a few kernels on top that are actually edible. Those on top are always good, but the whole process seems a little wasteful, at least as carried out by my family. We keep trying, though!

And then the family drifts back inside and I’m left in the twilight with my bottle of Dr Pepper and a dwindling fire. I love that moment when the coals are red and gray, giving off no smoke but lots of heat, and every little breath of wind makes the red brighten for just a moment. It’s at that moment that I start getting ideas, for cartoons and books and even articles like this.

Time to go light the fire.