Yesterday — it being the last day of the year and all — H. presented me with a neat idea. How about we go to Birds Hill Park, he said, and make a fire? Birds Hill is a provincial park about 24 kilometers from Winnipeg, and a favorite destination to camp, hike, bike, swim, and picnic. This appealed to me immediately, it being the last day of the year and all, and the weather relatively mild at a few degrees below zero Celsius. So, come supper time, we were off, with wood and matches, flashlights, chairs, picnic basket with smokies, buns, condiments, drinks, and dessert.
As we drove into the park, however, one kilometre after the other, and seemingly the only people there — for we passed no one at all — the darkness felt very thick indeed and seemed to get thicker. The park is not lit, and the sky was clouded. The city was far away, just a glow on the horizon. Suddenly it felt weird, this idea, and lonely, just us and our car lights out here, trying to find a suitable fire pit near the road where we could stop.
The fire pits are a lot harder to see in the dark, H. remarked. Yes. We kept driving, along the huge circle the road makes through the park. Distances seem longer in the dark, too, we said.
Eventually we came to an area that we thought we recognized as having fire pits. We stopped and H. turned the car to the side a little to direct the car lights over the area to our right. No pits there, but what was that, to our left? Not just a fire pit on a slight incline beside a stand of pines, but one with a faint red glow in it. A pit with fire?
We got out and checked. Yes, indeed, red-hot embers. There was no one there so we claimed it as ours to use. How quickly a hearty fire is achieved when it’s already started, when there are ashes sizzling with life and heat. We soon had a good blaze on, and soon that blaze had pushed back enough for us to roast our smokies, have our supper. Food — even a roasted smokie that has fallen onto the ground — tastes delicious in the dark and cold, and when all you can hear are your own voices, the wind, and the crackling flames. We ate and we talked about the year past, and the one lying ahead.
The snow around the pit was trampled hard and several picnic tables had been pulled into the area, so I’m guessing it may have been a rendezvous or warm-up spot for some people doing snow sports earlier. And who knows whether leaving a fire a-glow, even in a metal pit in winter, is the right thing to do. All I know is that the bubbling remains of it — as if waiting for us, biding their time — added something special to the evening, some poetry if you like, or a reminder about the new year and our travelling into its unknowns. It was wonderful not only in a practical sense but as a metaphor of life’s journey as well. If it’s true that faith is longing, desire, intention, the fire of which we dream and want to set or keep a-light, is it not also true that we will meet Fire already lit for us, to draw us near, to guide and to help us?