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  • “Well it was your mother who came closest of anyone to burning it down,” Tommy said. He was on the defensive, with no trace of humor. It was a mean hit, a low blow. My mind went all Missouri for a moment.
    “Don’t you talk about MY Momma,” I thought, seeing red. “My mother, my story.”

    So I told the story to the group, who were all ears and eyes, and by now quiet.
    Tommy was right, she had.
    Even though we always thought it would be his group that might do it with their parties and bonfires and youth. No one would do it on purpose; it would have to be an accident.
    The years that his group was out there things went missing, gas tanks mostly would either be empty or gone. I arrived for my one long weekend and spent a morning, going ashore, in the fog, to get a new one. I never forgot.
    That spring we had our last bonfire on the mainland while the snow was still on the ground. We had a permit and the warden said in another two weeks the fields would be bare and the grass dry.
    “That’s when it gets dangerous to burn,” he said. “Then you have to wait for the grass to green up so it won’t catch.”
    We told my mother that, the weekend she went out. I couldn’t go with her and she couldn’t go any other time because then my father would be there.
    “I won’t be able to do it with him there,” she said.
    I understood that.
    I had gone out with her one February to burn. We tended to our brush piles, ate by the fire and stayed out among the stars. We agreed that was among our fondest memories.
    She went out to the island, before the season, when the empty village seemed leftover from another time and departed people.
    She started her fire of last years pruning. Something people, all over the world, do to usher in spring with a clean slate. Fire is a primitive and cleansing force. But the energy, once released, cannot be easily contained.
    The sparks got away from the inner circle and caught the tall dry grass from the past summer. There was a small gust of wind and the flames spread like someone shaking out a tablecloth. With a small whoosh the entire field was on fire.
    She cried for help. The buckets of water she had, the Indian pump, and the rake were no match. My niece came by and Tommy was there too.
    They chased the flames down to the edge of the woods where they reached up into the trees.
    They were chasing a disaster.
    But the damp and cold of winter still held on in the woods and after a while the fire lost its arrogance and died out. Just when they thought everything was lost.
    You can still see the dead branches at the back of the field. The blueberries came in strong the following years, until the grass got the better of them again.
    Sometimes you can look back and see a place in time where a change has occurred. The traces of charred spots reveal a moment, where someone you love is standing helpless, among the flames.
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