Just a baby brush pile. This one will need to get quite a bit bigger before burning!

Last week I wrote about how we burned much of our trash growing up. Then, on Saturday, we had a soft rainy day with no wind–a perfect brush burning day!

Brush piles were simply something that had to be dealt with periodically on the farm. Clearing the pasture, trimming trees, picking up deadfall–there’s just a lot of bits of wood and branches that need to be gotten rid of.

Burning a brush pile is an art. And I like to think it’s one I’m pretty good at.

Now, most of the men in my life prefer the gasoline accelerant method of burning brush. My technique is more subtle. First, I rake the area around the pile clean so there’s less danger of a spark catching something close by. Then I make a sort of cave or opening in the bottom of the pile and add cardboard and some newspaper. Next, I drag out my hose, water bucket, rake, and a hoe so I’ll have the tools I need to keep the fire in check. And my work gloves, of course.

Then, light that baby up!

I prefer a slow, steady burn. I burn from one side of the pile to the other, slowly raking and pushing to keep a decent sized fire that’s not so big it’s likely to get out of hand. There’s a pleasure and a peace to watching flames reduce wood to ash. The best is when it’s a chilly day and I can enjoy the contrast of the cool air on my back and the fire on my face. A few snowflakes add to the ambience.

My most memorable brush pile burn was when I still worked for Biltmore Estate. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was leaning on my hoe, watching the fire die down when my husband called me inside for a phone call. My supervisor wanted me to get out to the estate to meet a VIP guest who was taking pictures on the front lawn of the house.

It was Andie MacDowell.

I didn’t have time to shower.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of Andie MacDowell and me with my hair shoved in a ponytail, wearing minimum makeup, hoping I don’t smell too much like smoke. I didn’t ask for a copy.

I hope they burned it.