Spring in Michigan is a beautiful time. Grass turns green, flowers bloom, birds chirp, and everything seemingly comes alive again after a dormant winter. Tonight after we got our little ones asleep, quick like a ninja, I exited the house into the fresh spring air. I was thrilled by the idea that for about 30 minutes, the dogs and I would enjoy some peace and solitude on a beautiful spring evening. Pure Michigan beauty. Crisp air, slight breeze, not a car in sight, and more stars in the sky than I had noticed in months. Mostly likely because I hadn’t taken the time to notice them. They have probably been there all along during every walk, shining down on me, illuminating my path with their soft glow.
Enough about stars. What I really want to tell you about are the smells of spring air in Michigan. I could tell you about the lilacs, and how when I breathe them in, my mind feels calmer. I could mention the aroma of freshly mowed lawns, as I remember my Dad mowing the lawn when I was a kid. He would always wave to me with each pass he made with his John Deere tractor, with the biggest smile. “Hi Honey,” he usually said, or yelled rather, so I could hear him above the roars of the mower. Such a simple, but beautifully powerful memory. For all of us, our senses are the biggest pathway to our memories. Smells, tastes, touch, things we hear; these are how we retrieve memories in the most powerful sense. Tonight, the scent of a bonfire sent me reeling in emotions. I was “feeling all the feels,” or whatever it is that the “cool kids” say.
When I met my husband in 2006, (realizing right now that was 10 years ago and I cannot honestly believe it has been that long already), some of our very first “dates” were sitting by a bonfire together. He built an amazing bonfire at our first home. It was made of huge rocks in a perfect circle. It cost him nothing to make it, yet it was the most beautiful bonfire pit I had ever seen. You could fit an immense amount of brush in there and still have room for more.
Sometimes we sat there and stared at the fire after a long day of grad school classes, hypnotized by the flames, hand in hand, just breathing in the fresh air. All was right in the world in those moments. The two of us, the bonfire crackles and flickering flames, and a beautiful evening under the stars. We had many of those. Sometimes we would sing and play guitar together at the bonfire, entertaining friends and family, or sometimes we just sang and played alone. We drove our neighbor crazy with our bonfires. She would run to her windows, slam them closed, and come over and give us the riot act about burning sticks. I am positive that she celebrated when we moved out of that home. Sometimes I drive by our old home and I still see our beautiful bonfire pit with freshly burned logs. The new owners are keeping the tradition of the bonfire alive, and likely driving “good ol’ Pat” absolutely crazy.
The bonfire at our 2nd home looks quite a bit different. 10 years later, our bonfire pit is a small, metal, square contraption that we picked up for free on Craigslist. It holds precisely 2 logs and maybe 4 sticks. Ok, maybe 5 sticks if you place them just so. It is a ridiculous fire pit, but when you have 2 children in 3 years, your priorities change a bit. Not only do we not have a functional bonfire pit, we haven’t found the time to go out there and use it but maybe twice a year. It sits there now with the same sticks that were burned in there last fall, when we decided to have a bonfire for the sake of “oh my goodness, we haven’t had a bonfire in months.”
On my walk tonight, after breathing in the woodsy aroma of our neighbor’s bonfire, I was reminded of life 10 years ago versus life now. So much change. Master’s degrees, marriage, buying 2 homes, having 2 babies, various job changes, becoming a stay-at-home-mom, starting my own business; life has really “happened” in a big way. Nothing we as humans ever do is small. We go all in. We live life to the fullest, or at least we should.
Our bonfires now are smaller and far more infrequent. We don’t have the ability to sit there and hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and just “be” in the crisp air. Now we have a precious baby to hold, a beautiful 3-year-old to watch running wild through the backyard (and teaching her to be cautious of the flickering fire). Let’s be honest, it’s not a blazing fire. It’s a slight flicker in the tiny little metal contraption that we call our bonfire pit. But still, it’s hot as heck and we want our kids to know how to play in the backyard with the bonfire going.
I stopped on my walk tonight and told my dogs to “sit and stay.” We stood near the road edge in a place where I didn’t look like a stalker, but close enough to that bonfire where I could take in the aroma, over and over again. I listened to that ever familiar crackle, gazed up to the stars, and breathed the deepest breath that I have taken in probably 2 years. The memories flooded into my mind, and of course the tears rolled. My dogs sat there for at least 10 minutes, staring at me, wondering why on earth I was putting a large HALT in our usual fast-paced walk. Our lives have changed so much. The romance, the priorities, the ability to come and go as we pleased, the expendable income that we “seemed” to have; it’s all different now.
Someday, we may get that beautiful, large, blazing, relaxing bonfire back. When we find time, sure, we could build a larger bonfire pit. We could make it even nicer than our first one. We may even be able to spend $100 building it, and unlike before, it wouldn’t “break the bank.” But it won’t ever be the same. Soon enough, we will be watching our kids roasting marshmallows, while we sit back and watch them giggle about burning the marshmallows to a crisp, and trying to convince each other that it tastes good that way. And some years down the road from that, we may be watching out the windows while our adolescent daughters wear hoodies and talk around the bonfire with their friends. And a few years from then, we may have to “trust” our daughters, as they sit out at the bonfire with their dates, chatting, flirting. Oh dear God. I don’t like that part of my story. I digress from there.
In 25 ish years from now, our children will be grown and leading their own lives. If we do things right, our bonfire pit at that point will be somewhere awesome like on the beach in Anna Maria Island (#lifegoals). We will again be able to sit there as a couple, staring at the blazing fire, holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes, and talking. But what will we be talking about? Surely not the bonfire itself, but all the memories associated with those dancing flames; the early dating years, the newlywed years, parenthood. All of them amazing, and all a snapshot in time. All of those years. Don’t they go by in a blink?
Next time one of your senses perk up and bring forth a vivid memory, take time to really recall it. When was it? What was it? How did you feel about it then? How do you feel about it now? The scent of a bonfire, for me, is as close to time travel as I will ever get. My memory of my life as a kid having bonfires with my parents, as a teen having wild bonfires with my friends, college bonfires, dating bonfires, married bonfires, bonfires with kids, there are just so many memories! I feel temporarily transported to all of those different times in my life, and I am grateful to say, each and every snapshot of those years (past and present) are something I would print into an 8×10 and proudly hang on my wall. Above the flames that wildly dance in my fireplace.