Five years ago I bought a fire pit for $525,000. It came with a small vacation home and a chunk of Northern California real estate, but it was definitely the fire pit, overlooking the Russian River, that made me call the loan broker.
Like the best fire pits, it was a simple setup, with a bed and border of standard red bricks and a sturdy iron grill that could pivot on and off the fire. This, I declared to my wife, will be the fire my son and I will sit by after days fishing – the nexus for his sense of place in the world. "He's only two," she reminded me. "Just make sure he doesn't fall in."
I'll teach my son that fire pits should be built and not pre-packaged. Raised copper or iron bowls, like those advertised in the SkyMall catalog, are far too precious to satisfy one's inner troglodyte. Stone or brick absorbs and then gives off a satisfyingly even heat. The ideal size is between three and four feet in diameter, and a steel ring to line the inside will protect your stone over the years.
I will tell my son that he should never have a backyard without a fire pit around which he can gather his chosen tribe. Fires elicit confessional stories and bond people.
The ritual has burned its way into our nature, ever since man tamed fire some 1.4 million years ago. No other activity is as deeply primal. (Well, there is one, but I'll let his mother decide when he's ready to hear about that.)
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