I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Memory and Fire and Greg

I came home from work today and built a fire in the backyard. Cheryl has one of those little steel fire-bowls. She's had some pretty big limbs in her yard that blew down months ago and there was something in the chill of the wind as I arrived home that made me think, "It's time to stare at some flames."

Staring at fire is good for people. At least, it's good for me. I find it almost impossible to watch flames dancing without opening a floodgate of memories. My memories today were mostly of Greg Hungerford, my best friend, who departed this world a few months ago. Greg and I lived about a two hour drive apart for the last five or six years; our time together during these years didn't involve much in the way of setting fires. But once... once...

For several years, I lived on the outskirts of a little town called Stokesdale, NC. I had a two acre lot near the end of a dead end road, and at some point before I bought the property a storm had torn through a stand of pine trees behind a huge shed and knocked over a dozen or so of them. Pretty much the day I moved in, I invested in a chain saw and some cinder blocks. I used the cinder blocks to form a large circle to serve as a firepit behind the shed, and set to work clearing out all the fallen trees one bonfire at a time. Some of these were party events, attended by dozens of people. But, most of them were just me, going out behind the shed in the evening, with a chainsaw and an axe, turning a half acre of fallen trees into an slowly growing empty space.

Back then, Greg lived only ten miles away, so at least once a week, sometimes more, he'd come over in the evenings and we'd stand around the fire, arguing politics and melting things. Glass bottles melt up nicely in a hot fire. And, if you get a fire hot enough and big enough, you can stand out in the woods in the middle of a fairly decent snow storm and still stay warm and semi-dry.

Something about standing in a small, hot circle of light in the middle of a dark winter night is conducive to honest conversation. Greg and I were both going through some struggles back them. My marriage was falling apart. He was a single father with a young daughter and was having trouble back then holding down a job. Both of us were in that phase of life where it was getting harder and harder to pretend we were still young men just starting out in the world. We were in our late thirties, and beginning to become aware that maybe we hadn't accomplished all we wanted to yet, and were somewhat at a loss to say where things had gone wrong, or even, truth be told, what it was that we had wanted. Clear goal setting wasn't a particular strength for either of us. Even a month before he died, Greg was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. I, on the other hand, have known since my mid-twenties exactly what I wanted to do with my life--I wanted to be a novelist, and to make a living at it. I just have never quite figured out the sure path to get there. The whole writing the books part... that I've got sussed. But making a living at it? Still a mystery.

So, Greg and I would talk about our doubts, as well as our dreams, as we turned pine trees into ash. And, I know there are people who go to therapists to talk through their problems, and some people who turn to religion, or even medication, to find a little peace. But, I really believe that what kept Greg and me sane through those tough years was the ability to go out and start a fire. There's something very primal about tending a fire beneath the stars. Something that connects back to the deepest human roots, reminds us of how we have pulled ourselves up out of animalness, that we are not just creatures of instincts and urges that we can't understand or control but are, in fact, masters of our world. We have the intelligence to build a fire, a dangerous, destructive thing, and keep it safely controlled, and take from it light and heat and memories.

Of course, eventually, with all fires, there comes a point where you've burned up all the fuel, and the embers that remain begin to smother beneath their own ash. Perhaps that's true of life as well; all that brightness and warmth must inevitably turn to cooling, ashed over cinders. You can't burn forever. But sometimes, even when the fire has died down to flickering wisps, you can still stir the ashes and send a shower of sparks heavenward.

Tonight, my memories of Greg are such sparks.


Drakonis said...

I wonder if that spam is somehow my fault for typing in Japanese on your blog.... Oh well.

Does Global Warning make you feel good?

James Maxey said...

Eh. The spam is my fault for not taking the time to delete it the day it popped up. (I've done so now.) I sincerely doubt your previous posts are to blame.

The global warming comment is a little odd, assuming it is meant to be critical of the act of standing around a fire building memories with friends. Really? That's the first place your mind goes? Global warming?

In any case, I'm not currently convinced that man-made global warming is a reality. I do believe the earth has been experiencing a warming trend for about the last 160 years based on neutral data such as official records of the dates of canal freezings, etc. However, there are multiple strong lines of evidence that the earth has been much warmer than it is today. If the earth is swinging into a warming period, there's little we can do to stop it, and the evidence seems pretty strong that we will be able to adapt to the changes.

The data I would need to see in order to convince me that man is behind the warming is actually not that difficult to gather. If we set up weather stations on Mars, and Mars temperatures stayed flat or showed cooling while we showed warming, I'd say this is evidence that our activities are causing the warming. But, from all verifiable evidence, Mars seems to have been undergoing a warming trend as well, as evidence by shrinking polar caps documented by nearly continuous observation for the last century.

Of course, it is possible that orbital differences between Mars and Earth could explain this data. But, the fact that both planets are experiencing warming trends at precisely the same time may also be evidence that the warming is based on subtle changes in solar output.

That said, even if I did have evidence that global warming was primarily driven by human activities, I'd still build fires for entertainment. I'd continue to drive, to cook my food, to have lights on at night to read by, and to take hot showers. Oh, and I'd keep blogging on my carbon spewing laptop. (Mine runs on kerosene.) The world will survive my hedonism, I feel confident.