Photographs, Stories Told

Bonfire therapy

It had been a difficult week, and by Friday I was in a lousy mood. After work, I drove out to pick up my sons – a long drive through the worst traffic in the state, which made me grumpier. Then when we stopped for dinner, I tripped on a step in front of the restaurant and fell flat on my face.

I wanted to just go home and sulk. But we had been planning to drive out to Terre Haute to see Rose-Hulman’s annual homecoming bonfire, and I didn’t want to disappoint my boys. So as night fell we headed west. Of course, the Interstate was riddled with construction and choked with semis.

We reached Rose-Hulman just as the pep rally let out, and we followed the crowd. Just before we came around a ridge of trees that shielded the bonfire site, fireworks began exploding overhead. As the fast and furious finale lit up the sky, we picked our way through the crowd trying to get as close to the structure of railroad ties as we could. The crowd chanted a countdown from ten, and then Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! – eight explosions all around the structure set it roaring ablaze. Women screamed, and then the crowd cheered. My youngest son leapt in the air with excitement. In no time, fire filled the structure and licked at the night.

2010 Rose-Hulman bonfire

Almost immediately, and much more quickly than in past bonfires, the heat was so intense that it stung my face and eyes. My sons took off their hoodies and lifted them to their faces. People began to back away, clearing the way for us to move to the front for the best view.

Within twenty minutes the fire burned way down. Flames barely cleared the top of the structure, most of which remained intact. I was surprised; normally, the bonfire burns hot much longer and consumes much more of the structure.

2010 Rose-Hulman bonfire

But no matter. My sons and I all agreed that it had been great. As we walked back to the car we compared it to last year’s bonfire, and before we climbed back on the Interstate for the trip home we stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream cones. I felt happy and relaxed. The fire had burned off my lousy mood.

When I was a student at Rose, I thought the campus was loveliest in spring. Check out a photo I took over a pond one spring morning in 1987.


10 thoughts on “Bonfire therapy

  1. Lone Primate says:

    Wow, that’s a fun video. :) I’m glad it all turned around for you. Something like that happened to me when I was a kid… lousy day that unexpectedly turned around when I was hauled out to help pick strawberries. Who knew? :)

  2. Mike Austing says:

    You really need to go to Louisiana just above New Orleans/Metairie in the week prior to Christmas. Upriver from New Orleans, huge structures such as this are built; on a specific evening, they are all set afire to help guide “Papa Noel” to New Orleansreally a spectacular sight!

  3. love this story! fire has a way of centering, cleaning, refocusing, even if only symbolically :) also this is one of those events that I am sure cannot be adequately captured on film or video.

    • It helps a lot that I have some really good memories of bonfires from my days as a student and from the years I lived in Terre Haute after graduation. Nothing like returning to the scene of a good time to cure what ails you!

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