July 24. The word is incandescent.

I might have a thing for four-syllable words. They have a beat that appeals. I mean, one can say “lighted from within by heat” with a lot of words. Alit. Glowing. Shining. Fiery.  I could keep going without a thesaurus, but my POINT is that I like the four-syllable version of it best of bestest.

In-can-DES-cent. You could dance to it. Tossing that word into a sentence with a lot of short, brisk nouns really changes the flow and …erm…brightens it up.

The “it’s on fire” implication pleases me too. I am a fan of fire. When I was a camp cook, we did all our meals over open fires, so that meant three to four fires a day (s’mores!) six days a week for ten weeks. Rain or shine, all outdoors. We had a backup pit in the tin-roof dining shelter, but I only remember using it four times in four years. Three times were in one memorably soggy summer.

The rest of the time we made that cook fire roar hard enough to scare off puny raindrops. It wasn’t just for food either. Typically we boiled about 20 gallons of water per meal for washing and semi-sterilize all the dishes too.  (Bleach was also our friend. Better/healthy living through chemistry.)

ANYway. The best part was lighting the first fire of the day. We had a little ritual for banking a fire to be safe overnight. No dousing with water the Girls Scout way, because this was a working pit, not a campfire. We banked it like pioneers, burning it down to nothing,  burying any hot coals safe beneath a heavy layer of cool ash and clinkers at the bottom, then covering the pit with the spark grate.

Our side goal was to go as many days as possible without lighting a match. Kinda like those safety signs. “It has been (X) days since we last resorted to using modern tools.”

Imagine kneeling in the dew of the early morning to dig through smoky dust while still sleepy-eyed and pre-caffeinated, until at last you find one tiny coal withering to nothing at the touch of damp air. Your only tools are sassafras twigs, the power of your lungs, and the skill of your hands. Careful, gentle, as delicate as can be, you breathe life back into that coal until fire leaps free again, newborn and hungry for fuel.

I felt as powerful as any goddess, I swear. Incandescent indeed.


Word provided by Sue Sherman

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