I built a fire outdoors in the metal grate last night. The rest of the family likes fires as well, but not for so long a time. Each comes out for a few minutes for a captivated stare into the blaze and a bit of conversation, then returns inside, especially in winter. I like staying there the whole time, tending the fire with little proddings and reloadings.
Of course, a fire is more interesting when it is yours, when you are responsible for the tending.
The setting up and starting of the fire is only a means to an end for me. I know the sense of accomplishment that starting a fire efficiently can bring - a single wooden match, a smallish bit of paper or shavings igniting the tiny branches which in turn light the larger ones. Yet the annoyance of failing at that task, and having to start over, with new shavings and kindling, is great enough that I prefer to overbuild from the start and get a blaze going with less risk of failure - multiple crumpled newspaper pages, a mound of dry twigs.
We believe that our thoughts are deep and profound while watching a fire. Usually, they are merely melancholic. Each gathered tribe, even each settlement, had its ones who enjoyed the staying up alone to preserve the fire for the others until morning.
I am reading The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, received for Christmas. I had expected from the book the same sort of pleasure one gets from watching a small fire. A sense of depth, touching on wisdom, filling in pieces of his thought, his biography, and his writing of LOTR to what I already knew, but nothing challenging. We don't really like challenging thoughts coming unexpectedly by a comfortable fire or from a comfortable author we believe we have got a corner on. We want to be told what we already know in a different way. Tolkien didn't let me off the hook that way, however. His letters, especially to his son Christopher, touched on opinions I didn't know the old fellow had. Some are quite new ideas to me, and some contradict what I now believe.
This put me up against it tending the fire. Instead of basking in warm comfortable thoughts, I had to wrestle with colder troubling ones, as one might have to with the fire itself when the cold wind is up and fuel at greater distance than expected. There are posts forming in my mind about all this. Posts here are now my dominant, though not exclusive, means of expressing things important to me. This is a good thing, as it forces me to put my thoughts into words understandable to others.
But it is perhaps not the best thing, as one of the lines of thought is how the trite line "the medium is the message" is true in many ways. The form one chooses dictates what one can say. Letters, conversation, and blogging are quite distinct in their moods.
I will also be writing on Tolkien's views on marriage and making my peace with Tom Bombadil, whose seeming intrusion into the story of LOTR I think I finally get.