Amazing Journey: 2.2

Headed Out To Fire Lake


Fire! I’ll take you to burn
Fire! I’m gonna take you to learn
I’ll see you burn!

~ The Who

Now that I think of it, there were a few times that I didn’t feel completely comfortable with my cousins while out at the cottage. Several occurrences really stand out.

The first two involved fire. As was the case with most adolescent males, I, along with John Dean and Mike, enjoyed playing with matches. We did the usual things boys did – play with smoke bombs and sparklers. Heck, we would even burn the hair on our sisters’ dolls.

However, with this trio, it might have been more appropriate to use the term pyromaniacs. Two separate events earned the three of us that rather dubious title.

To his credit, brother Mike wasn’t involved in the first of the fiery incidents, just John Dean and me. It was a brisk autumn day and there was plenty of dry, dead leaves everywhere, even on the long, narrow peninsula that jutted out into Camp Lake. That’s where my cousin and I were playing on that fateful day.

Walking down the narrow path in the center of the peninsula, we noticed something shiny to the left of us behind some small trees. With our curiosity getting the best of us, we decided to do some exploring.

Our investigation lead to a small, rectangular metal box with a chimney-like pipe coming out of it. It was probably 18 inches by 12 inches and open on one side. After a minute or two of inspection, we decided it was part of some sort of stove or heater. Because the air was rather crisp, we decided to put our new discovery to use.

I gathered up an armful of crispy leaves and stuffed them into our discovery. John Dean pulled a book of matches from his pocket. You could always count on my cousin coming prepared. We were going to get warm.

The moment he struck the match the leaves in the metal box ignited – along with most of the leaves within a six-foot radius. Almost instantaneously we had a good-sized blaze going. We were getting warm all right.

After we got over the initial shock, and perhaps soiling ourselves, we took control of the situation. Dropping to our knees we used our hands to beat down the flames and stop them from spreading.

Luckily, because of the cold weather, we were wearing gloves. Eventually, we were able subdue our impromptu inferno. The cottage was saved.

With our dilemma alleviated, John Dean looked at me and started to chuckle. Also feeling relieved, I half-heartedly laughed, all the while thinking how lucky we were. As the saying goes, young and dumb and having fun.

The next time the two of us decided to play with matches we included Mike. Once again it was an autumn day with plenty of dry, brittle leaves covering the ground.

During the first escapade when we put the treasured cottage in peril we were at least a couple hundred feet away. Had we not controlled the fire, it probably would have not reached the cottage.

This time our proximity was much closer, maybe twenty or thirty feet away. Plus, even closer were three automobiles located about four or five feet away. Talk about adding fuel to the fire. Literally. Evidently we had not yet learned our lesson.

Let me set the scenario for you. At the top of the hill just to the right and about 30 feet from the back door of the cottage was a makeshift parking lot. The area was covered with gravel and featured two large logs lying end-to-end where the gravel ended.

The logs were old and grey and totaled about 40 feet in length. You could easily fit at least four or five automobiles against the logs before having to start a second row.

I believe there were two cars and a pickup truck parked against the logs on this particular afternoon. This is significant because that left about eight feet of log for us to play with.

Did I say play? Well, I guess that would accurate because once again we were playing with matches. Like the last time, dried leaves were our source of tinder. I honestly cannot explain our fascination with combustible items, but we sure had one.

So, for whatever reason, the three of us were laying on the cold ground making small piles of leaves against the log and then lighting the piles with matches. Adding to the excitement were the three automobiles filled with gasoline less than ten feet to our left.

Oh, I almost forgot about the cottage located about ten yards to the right of us. I never said we were rocket scientists. This had disaster written all over it.

Needless to say, that is what happened next. We had a genuine, full-blown disaster. Before we knew it, the flames were a minimum of four feet in the air. Not only were the leaves burning, but also so was the log. This made our exploit on the peninsula look like child’s play. Oh, wait. You understand what I mean; this blaze dwarfed our previous effort. A profound panic came over the three of us.

We immediately waded into the flames and attempted to trample them out, all the while glancing over our shoulders at our parents’ automobiles. We were stomping like madmen with little, if any, results. The situation was getting worse by the second.

That’s when Mike made a break for it. John Dean and I simultaneously shouted out, “Where the hell are you going?” Was my brother abandoning us? Was he merely running for safety or was he going to get help from our folks? It didn’t matter, either way we had to continue trying to keep the flames from reaching the cars.

Suddenly, when it didn’t look like things could get any bleaker, Mike returned holding snow shovels. “Here, use these!” he shouted as he tossed one to each of us. Doing as he suggested we used the wide, flat blades of the shovels to smash the flames into submission.

Before long we had the fire under control. With a few well-placed stomps of the feet it was finally out. Mike’s quick thinking had saved the day. And the vehicles. And the cottage. And, perhaps most importantly, he had saved our young asses.

For good measure, John Dean ran to get a plastic bucket. He filled it with water from the lake and then poured it on the smoldering mess. All that was left was to kick some fresh leaves over the burnt ones. It looked as if we had dodged another bullet, and a major one at that.

As we began to walk away with a collective sense of smugness, I noticed something. The log. It had a five-foot long burn mark on it that was almost a foot wide. Shit. Now what?

Once again, my younger brother Mike came through. “Paul, get on the other end of the log.” At this point I wasn’t asking any questions and obediently ran down to the far end of the log. Looking down I saw my brother and cousin grabbing their end of the charred length of timber. I did the same and when it was up high enough, we turned the burnt side of the log onto the ground.

Eureka! After pushing some leaves against, you couldn’t see any sign of burning. Mission accomplished. To this day I remain amazed that our parents never found about this near catastrophe.

In this segment I mentioned two instances of chicanery that our trio of budding juvenile delinquents got into. Was there more? What other mischief were we capable of? Stay tuned…