Last night I built a fire in the fireplace. Our wood this year isn’t as seasoned as previous loads have been, and it sometimes takes some coaxing to get it lit. Last night’s fire required constant tending, which was fine once I understood that and realized I couldn’t put my feet up with a cat on my lap and read.
Instead, after dinner, I put myself at the mouth of the fireplace and just… sat. I felt the heat on my face. I listened to the hiss and whine of steam escaping the wood, to the crackles and pops, to the whipping of flames like sails. I smelled the char of burned wood, and the campfire smell of smoke, and our cat’s breath as she purred on my lap (she found my lap again after I moved from the chair to the floor). At one point I laid my notebook on the hearth and wrote. I wrote about the fire and I don’t remember what else.
After I wrote, I sat some more. I watched the flames dance and the embers flare. I blew on them to see them glow brighter. I watched smoke and ash curl up the chimney.
As I felt the heat on my cheeks, and listened to the hiss and crackle and pop, and watched the flickering orange, I felt awe and contentedness.
I wanted to hold on to that.
I considered getting out my camera to try to capture fire in a photograph; I’ve never succeeded at that before, not well. But then what? A photograph wouldn’t give me the feeling I feel when I sit by the fire and do nothing; the act of photographing would remove me from my enjoyment of just sitting and being.
In that moment, I realized that the problem with being present in the present — with not thinking about some other place and time other than right here and right now — is that the present is ephemeral. The past is anchored in memories, the future is something we can create in our minds and keep visiting. The present though, it’s only real for a blip. That feeling we get when we’re in the presence of beauty, we feel a deep contentedness, and we’re struck with wonder and awe, we know it won’t last. And so we try to capture it and possess it, while the secret is to enjoy it while it’s happening and resist the urge to grasp it tight.