Autumn Fire by Nancy Mugele


We lit the first fire of the season in our fireplace last weekend and breathed in its warmth and comfort. I love a glowing hearth in the evenings, and now that we have started, there is no turning back until spring. Not only do fires warm my toes, but the cozy fireside always warms my soul. Gazing into the dancing flames I can reflect upon my day, organize my thoughts, and recharge.

Not that I am in a particular rush to see Daylight Saving Time come to an end this weekend, especially considering how much earlier it has been getting dark these past few afternoons, but with thanks to Benjamin Franklin’s invention in the 18th Century, the dark evenings are definitely made brighter by a crackling fire in the family room. The added benefit, of course, is that the fire reduces our heating costs.

I don’t even need a roaring fire to relax and unwind. I just need a small fire to last a few hours as I read or watch television. Candles suffice in the summer months, but as soon as the weather changes, the flue is thrown open. (Our flue stays in the open position for months, but that is another story.) The fire is my companion on evenings when Jim returns home late from his office in Towson. And, for Jim, it is literally a warm welcome home.

I am pretty handy with the fireplace tools and can light a paper log with the best of them. But the art of stacking wood in the proper way to bring the fireplace to life is Jim’s gift (it is also James’ gift, but since he lives in Montana it doesn’t help me). When Jim is working on getting our fire going I can’t help but think of the phrase “light my fire” made famous decades ago thanks to a song by The Doors.  “Light my fire” is, among other meanings, a metaphorical way to say “inspire me.” Fires, in our oversized cooking fireplace, (made in the Dutch design, much wider than taller), inspire me.

Student writing also inspires me and this quarter at Kent School I will be teaching Creative Writing in Middle School Explorations. Four times during the academic year students can select an elective from a menu of offerings to learn something new, fuel a passion, develop a hobby, discover a potential future vocation, or contribute to student life via Yearbook or our Kent School News video production. This is my first experience teaching an Explorations class and I am really excited about it.

In preparation for my writing class, where I will focus on journaling, blogging and writing poetry, I have been reviewing my personal favorite resources. I will use Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. Both provide lessons on the basic mechanics of writing, as well as exercises and thoughtful prompts to awaken creativity. When I came upon this Mary Oliver excerpt, it struck a chord:

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Fires for the cold – I had never looked at a poem that way, but yes, now I see. Poems are literary works in which “special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm” (Merriam Webster). Autumn fires with their special intensity can capture the heart as only a poem can, and they certainly have a rhythm as the wood catches.

On Monday our Middle School students will select their elective for the next two months. I hope some of them sign up for my session. For those who do, I hope that I can inspire them to share their special intensity through the written word.

Poetry and warm, autumn fires. Both will continue to inspire me as this fall season turns to winter.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

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