Fire is my greatest concern. For years I took the same risk day after day of seeking shelter under roofs or in cellars. But I found that I was entrusting my security to structures created from wood. Accidental discovery, my then primary motivation, had driven me for years to make decisions on where to shelter myself. And too often I found upon review that I had been subjecting myself to poor decisions.
Men don't go with regularity into darkened spaces, poking about. Their diurnal and nocturnal habits turn out to be hugely regular, and it takes an exception for them to alter their ways. And while fire is also the exception, it takes a different form. Men typically proceed with measure and plan. Fire does not. Men have fears, limits of energy and the time they apply towards an objective. Fire does not. Men willfully retreat when their limits are reached or daylight is exhausted. Fire does not.
It was a recent experience in Lund that had provoked me to reassess my ways. I awoke one autumn evening and found the barns and carriage houses above me in flames. The amount of fuel on hand – hay, straw, the structures themselves – made for an utter disaster once ignited. I had to squirm my way out from the basement I had been using. The floorboards were caving in as I exited; it had been that close. Everything I had accumulated to that point in time was lost. I don't want to remember the size of my loss but the event brought me to think through what was the more serious concern.
In my reassessed life, stone construction became my new target. Cathedrals, town halls and similar solid constructions became my new haunt. I swore myself an oath to avoid wood. Months of uneasiness followed wherein I had to train myself to align with my decision, so great was my fear of discovery. Yet the forced new habit became the norm. Stone become my bulwark.
Somehow on this cool wet May night it was the coal soot coating on that sailor's skin that brought all this to mind. We had made our way off of the docks and around to an alleyway. There, the evening had taken a new turn for him. And while we were locked in a new passion –one of my design – the smell of the coal soot and the taste of it from his skin distracted me. As things progressed through the sequence I had come to take as routine my mind was crossing off steam-driven ships as a means of travel or as a means of securing myself. Anything that might lead to uncontrolled fire had to be avoided. All that wood, canvas, rope and crates, surrounding a furnace and its coal stores and internal insatiable fire, formed nothing short of a conflagration in the making. Sometimes that relentless evolution I saw about me led to questionable ends.