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Adventures in Healing and Dogsitting

Girls Can Make Fire

Katie Estes

My dog died unexpectedly but not quickly. I work from home and spent practically every second with her. Being in the apartment after she died was a problem. She was still there, everywhere, but not visibly. Just the piles of dog hair that I knew would eventually go, making me on of those people that aren’t covered in dog hair when they leave their apartment. The removal of her things began with her food container left outside on the sidewalk, then her bowls, then her poop bags. Her bed is still in the middle of my apartment, I walk around it. I can’t throw it away. 

The second day of a Pattyless apartment and I said, “Let’s go upstate.” Which turned into, let’s go camping. We agreed and prepared in less than an hour. I don’t think I convinced Oliver that I was serious until the third Corona in can that night. It was raining as we drove up the Catskills mountains. The outside temperature read 45 degrees but we assured ourself that couldn’t be right. We plugged GPS points into Google and just drove. Our destination was a swimming hole I had read about last August, when the air was warm enough to touch. When we parked we couldn’t tell if the pellets coming from the sky were hail or snow. 

We didn’t care. The swimming hole was beautiful and empty. Oliver apparently was a former Olympic rock skipper and taught me how to throw. I brought books and journals and back up journals and didn’t touch a single one of them. We scouted a camping location, hesitant that we were in over our heads when it started to rain again. We didn’t care.

In the deep forest, full of the ticks that killed my dog, the dense trees filtered the rain and we remained mostly dry. Oliver made a fire in all of 30 seconds and then told me it was time to chop wood. We are both enthusiastic wood splitters, one among many shared cathartic joys. I learned that saws cut sideways and axes split. I learned that I can chop with both my right and left hands. I learned that even after a night of no sleep out in the woods, shivering all night wondering how I got there, that I can get up, without coffee, and make a fire. 

It took me a great deal longer than Oliver, with many false starts. Around 15 minutes in I noticed that I had embers. I shoved more leaves in between my twig teepee and then I had flames. My thick twigs now needed to be logs, and I needed to saw. I sawed logs off of a small downed tree and then axed them off. I made a little pile of wood next to my now burning fire. I burned birch wood that smelled like Palo Santo. I sat by my roaring morning fire in the Catskills, in the 45 degree May morning, until I saw Oliver’s head poke up out of tent. 

“You made fire.”

“I made fire.”