Who first used fire?
This is the second instalment of my and Sophia’s #TheIsolationJournal prompt response series. To read her first entry, click here. All credit for the prompts goes to Suleika Jaouad.
I spend a lot of time wondering who did what first. (I have four brothers; maybe that’s why.)
Who first discovered that bread can rise? Who was the sacred human to first ferment alcoholic beverages? Who watched their buddy eat the poisonous plant and then had the guts to say–wait, but what if I lit that on fire and cooked it, maybe it wouldn’t kill me? Who first took the wool from sheep to make a sweater?
I always end up at the same place: our ancestors were baller. So I decided to write a letter to the first person who ever discovered that they could use fire.
Dear Ancestor Who First Used Fire,
First off, thank you. I know you can’t read this, and I don’t even know what you would make of the internet. Would you think it’s impressive? Silly? Wonder why we stopped sitting around fires and looking into warm faces and started staring at cool, backlit screens?
Last night, my boyfriend, his best friend, and I lit aluminium staffs on fire and spun them above our heads, and it was really fun. I thought about you.
(Aluminium is metal, which comes from rocks, so thanks for working with that, too.)
I wonder if you’d be proud of me. I’m grateful for you. I’m honoured to be your descendent. And I’m so curious.
How did it happen? Did lightning strike? How did it happen? Were you a man? A woman? How did it happen?
I think about this a lot when my boyfriend and I gather wood for a fire or cook over a fire on a camping trip. Were you like us, I wonder, as I load my arms up with sticks. When I watch our friend, Dalton (he’s a pyromaniac, you would like him), inevitably stumble out of the woods, hauling small dead trees, I always think of you.
Were you the only person present when the first sparks took hold? Was your family there? Were you relaxed and laughing? Or were you cold and hungry? Had you wondered what it would feel like to have warm food? What other tools did you have?
Had you seen a fire blaze across acres and think: I need this, but smaller?
Did you accidentally burn your shelter down? (Are we more closely related than I thought, Ancestor Who First Used Fire?)
Most of all, I wonder what it felt like.
What did it feel like to have that fire warming your hands, to see a tiny tendril of flame wave back at you?
Ancestor Who First Used Fire, today we have this thing called fire safety. People have to keep doors closed in universities, which are places where people go to learn skills, many of which weren’t invented when you walked the earth. We have fire extinguishers (in case the fire burns too much), and we have fire departments (small tribes of men and women who are good at putting out fire, and who have fast chariots that help them put out fire).
What would you think about this? What would you tell us?
I can’t resurrect you from the grave. I don’t even know how you were buried. Cremated? Buried? Left out on a platform? In a boat, Viking funeral-style? (I want that kind of funeral when I die.)
I wish I could speak with you, hear your language, ask you for advice. I wish I knew what you would think of this modern world with its COVID-19 and its fire safety and its screens.
But more than anything, I wish I could make fire with you. I wish I could hear the Ancestor Who First Used Fire laugh at how Dalton always finds a dead tree, how Nick can use anything to get a fire going. I wish we could sit and see the warm light flicker across each other’s face.