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© Joan Currie

Heat cannot be taken from fire, or beauty from the Eternal.

During the day few people stop to notice this bonfire, but at night it takes center stage for many types of gatherings. This weekend, the annual Burning Man event will take place in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. The event notice prompted me to think about the bonfires of my youth.

My first exposure to bonfires was at a girls’ summer camp in northern Ontario, Canada. I remember the darkness of the night and being lulled into a dreamy state by the cinders dancing up and around in the hot flames – broken only by the occasional cracking sound, like that of a ringmaster’s whip. The counselors sang and played on their steel string guitars the melancholy tunes of Joni Mitchell, mostly from the Blue album. I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane was also a favorite that they played over and over again. Those sessions were pure magic and the lyrics of the songs are emblazoned in my memory forever.

Just as we are drawn to the bonfire, so are the beasts. There is a certain vulnerability when seated in a ring facing the fire with our backs exposed – an uneasiness about who or what is lurking in the shadows. Ghost storytellers know this and so did an older boy when, at a local bonfire pit, he delighted in recounting a gruesome tale about a green-eyed monster. To this day, the monster has a habit of rearing its ugly head when I am alone at night – walking along deserted streets, in the woods, or going down to the cellar. Sometimes the imagination fuels the fire even more…