And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
— Robert Louis Stevenson (1913)
Yesterday, I pulled out my copy of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” and read “Fires in the Fall.” The memories stirred by Stevenson’s poem drew me back to childhood autumns when I raked leaves into piles, then jumped and rolled in them, delighted by the crackly sounds they made. Yesterday, I drove to the country where sugar maples are dressed in gold and red oaks and sumacs are on fire. Everywhere I looked, leaves were breaking free from their branches and raining down to Earth. In the country, people burn the leaves or let them lie. I followed a scent that was sweet and stinging until I saw a fire at the side of the road. I rolled down the car windows, let the smoke drift inside and soak through my clothes. I wanted to take it home with me. In the city, people rake leaves and haul them curbside. The City trucks come, suck them up and grind them into compost. You can’t burn leaves in the city. You can’t savor that lovely smell.
When I was little, my grandmother lived with us. Leaf burning was allowed then, and grandma burned leaves with a passion. She even had a fire ring in our backyard that she’d made from old bricks. Grandma and I spent sunny October afternoons together raking leaves and piling them high. When we were done, Grandma poured gasoline onto the pile and told me to stand back. She lit a wooden match and tossed it onto the heap. (Had my parents known, they would have been horrified.) Poof! The leaves burst into flames releasing white smoke to the clear, blue sky and that wonderful earthy smell.
I love that fire warms campsites on cool, summer nights and causes firewood to pop and crackle. I enjoy fall bonfires on the beach and roasting hotdogs over an open flame. But, I know to stand back. I know that fire has a dark side. It eats up possessions and steals lives. We live in awesome fear of it. We install round, white discs in our houses that scream out warnings if fire comes near.
When I think of fire, I remember the story of Moses leading the Israelites toward the land of Canaan. During the day the Lord went ahead of his people in a thick cloud, and during the night he went ahead of them in a flaming fire. That way the Lord could lead them at all times, whether day or night [Exodus 13:21-22 CEV]. Imagine that; God in a pillar of fire leading His people home. I also remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three believers who refused to obey a king’s command to worship a golden idol. The king had the men tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace. As he watched, the king saw not three figures engulfed in flames, but four. He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” [Daniel 3:25 NIV]. Not a son of the gods! It was God Himself. He was the One in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When the men came out of the furnace the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them [Daniel 3:27b NIV]. God was in the flames shielding the men from harm.Look around during this lovely autumn season and you will see God. He is the colors of the autumn leaves and also the fires that burn them. When you find Him in the sights and smells of the season, remember that God has power over everything: He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants [Psalm 104:4]. In the darkest nights, He lights our way, and when our lives are ablaze with troubles, He stands in the fire with us.
Please be the spark that ignites the fire in my life: the passion to do your work and to follow your will.