Request For Fire

It snowed a few days ago. The first real snowfall of the season. And with it began the national festival known as The Kvetching of the Canucks. “I’m cold,” “I can’t feel my toes,” “Three of my fingers have turned black and fallen off.” Bitch bitch bitch. It’s the same thing every year and I’m sick of it. So sick, in fact, that I was tempted to skip the Chase-the-guy-with-the-fire-stick ritual.

Canada, as you know, is a primitive and backwards land, full of ice and tundra and people apologizing for things that aren’t even their fault — like all the ice and tundra, for instance. We do have things like cars and airplanes and cell phones and wireless internet. Fire, however, remains an elusive technology.

For much of the year, we don’t really need fire. The weather is reasonably temperate and unless you’re really into barbecuing those caribou ribs on an open grill, you can get by fine without it. But then the north winds whip through our log cabins and everyone starts to think we should have poured more tax dollars into fire research instead of dumb technologies like skidoos and insulin. That’s when it’s time for our Minister of Fire to blow some of that hot parliament air on the single ember we keep archived just in case winter comes back to haunt us — which it always seems to do on an annual basis. Once a modest flame is sparked, our fastest runners are dispatched to deliver fire via torch to all the remote Canadian hamlets and villages so that at least some of our nation’s modest population might hope to survive until the thaw.

The fire-stick runners are celebrated heroes of the winter months and, as such, are greeted by many grateful citizens wherever they go. The masses wave and cheer and then mob them and tear them into little pieces as each individual tries to gain control of the magic fire-stick for themselves. Occasionally, if it’s been a particularly weak harvest, the runners are roasted over their own fire-sticks and devoured. Like all great world heritage traditions, such as slavery or honour killings or hockey riots, this is legally sanctioned.

Thanks to my participation in this great Canadian tradition, I now have a small flame burning in my home. I will nurse it carefully all winter, feeding it fuel regularly so it won’t go out. It will be there whenever I need to get warm or see in the dark or heat up some food. And then, when spring comes at last, I’ll douse it with a garden hose, content in the knowledge that I’ll never need fire again.

The fire-stick runner raises a hand defensively, pleading for mercy as she approaches the crowd waiting in ambush.

The crowd caught up with her moments later with expected results. This year’s fire-stick runner was, I must say, exceptionally tasty if slightly overcooked.

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