Fire is a luxury

Last night I faced a conundrum, otherwise known as a dilly of a pickle…

I was going to have a fire in the backyard and cook dinner on it. I was looking forward to it, but after putting all the wood in the firepit and with the lighter in my hand about to ignite it, I noticed there were at least 10 bull and white ants (that I could see) crawling over and around and along and up and down the pile of sticks I was about to set alight. Ughh. Instant guilt. I don’t want to sound like one of those people who believes that, no matter how big or small, every living creature deserves to live and doesn’t deserve to die a horrific death by burning to death, but actually, now that I think about, you know what, I do.

Why should I do this thing that I don’t need to do, and as a result murder (in a brutal way) another species. And several of them too. I had warmth – the backdoor of my house is about 7 footsteps away, full of enough warmth and comfort until the ants come home. So I went inside, and lit a candle instead. It felt a bit lame, but I knew it shouldn’t. No ants were horrifically torched to death in the lighting of that candle.

We have a lot of luxuries that we take for granted and also just indulge in because we feel entitled to.

In Walden (or Life in the Woods), Henry David Thoreau says that even having a fire is a luxury:

‘Man has invented, not only houses, but clothes and cooked food; and possibly from the accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the consequent use of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity to sit by it. We observe cats and dogs acquiring the same second nature. By proper Shelter and Clothing we legitimately retain our own internal heat; but with an excess of these, or of Fuel, that is, with an external heat greater than our own internal, may not cookery properly be said to begin? Darwin, the naturalist, says of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, that while his own party, who were well clothed and sitting close to a fire, were far from too warm, these naked savages, who were farther off, were observed, to his great surprise, “to be streaming with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting.”‘

There’s so much that we (and me too) do unconsciously that not only affects (or even kills) living species around us, no matter how small¹. Sometimes it’s hard not to, as every step we take, and everything we eat, whether animal or plant, in some way has killed or uprooted a community of a species. But sometimes we have a choice, and it’s totally our own.

¹ I’m a massive fan of insects, and in particular ants and bees. When I went to the San Diego Zoo 3 years ago – probably the best one in the world– I spent about three quarters of my time in the insect exhibit. I also think that one day we will gaze at ants with the same ‘wowwwwws’ and ‘awwwwww’s that we do at pandas, but I don’t want to go on about that. I’ll just probably write a longass post about it one day.