Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Fall is officially here. Like other parts of the country, we’re experiencing a chill in the air, but it isn’t likely to last. Before it starts to cool off in Southern California, we usually get a couple of months of scorching heat, Santa Ana winds, and wildfires. Sometimes we catch a whiff of a fire on one of our walks. Most are quickly contained, but not all.

When I was growing up in Virginia, people burned piles of leaves in the fall. Whenever I catch the scent of a wildfire, I feel a strange mix of nostalgia and dread.

Some months ago the website Children Come First posted a First Lines Contest with the opening line “He smelled something burning…” The first thing I thought of was our experience with wildfires. After I saw this posting, I read that editors really hate it when the first sentence of a story begins with something burning, so I began to wonder about their choice.

Shortly after I submitted my entry, I read that editors also really hate it when a story begins with someone waking up. Too bad, since the first sentence to my submission read,

He smelled something burning when he woke up.

Editor pet peeves notwithstanding, they posted my entry. I wanted to describe a wildfire from a child’s perspective, based on an actual event. Some stories just begin that way.

The rest of my extra-short story (a 200 word limit is tough!) can be found here.


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...


We burn brush in the fall, and so far it's been a safe endeavor.

Rena said...

Cool entry. I lived in SoCA all my life (40+ years) so I'm all too familiar with the sights & smells you describe, especially those Santa Anas. Those winds sent my headaches into a tailspin.

Things in MT are way different. Everyone here has "slash piles" to burn their leaves, dead wood and such. You're not supposed to dump that stuff in the trash bins. We haven't started burning yet, but we will soon.

Wildfires in MT are different than CA too. In CA you have 24/7 news footage about everything, including interviewing the family dog. Here in MT, they just let the forests burn. They don't have the money or resources, not to mention can't get into the burn areas. It's totally different here.

Brenda said...

Great little story...I"m from VA, (small town) so it is nothing to smell something burning most every evening...

A couple years ago, there was a fire on the mountain we live on...luckily, it jumped the mountain and bypassed our home, but it was quite an uneasy feeling to be able to see it so close...

adrienne said...

Green Girl - sounds like one of the difficulties of country living. I've heard it can be hard to get burn permits here because of the effect on air quality, but it's something I've had no experience with.

Rena - I don't know how it is elsewhere, but I notice we mainly hear about them when a large number of homes are threatened/destroyed. We don't hear as much when they are more remote (but we can smell them, as you know)...

Brenda - I get homesick every time someone mentions VA!