Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Autumn fire”

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it
with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable
 offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.”
Wendy Delsol

“Autumn is the most beautiful time of the year
to the person who has no leaves to rake.”

I reach into the collection of laundry lint I keep next to the dryer. Then into the recycling bin for some sheets of newspaper. Upstairs for a lighter, and a firestarter. Time to head out. The air cools my skin as I head into sepia, my twilight-shaded yard. I pull off the cover of my fire pit, arrange my treasures, add some twigs. An autumnal equinox mandala. Flames are feeble at first. I sit, wait. I am patient. I know I’ll repeat this step a few times as the sticks ease into their self-fueled warmth. 


“And in the evening, the piled firewood shifts a little, longing to be on its way.”
– Mary Oliver

My son and his friends wander outside to see what I’m doing. The flames succumb to cold, and he takes over. I smile, thinking how much I have invested in his years of fire-making skills at Wild Earth and Bowdoin Park. He eschews lighters and firestarters, blows out hiss-streamed air that resuscitates the waning bit of orange. His friends warn him about his long hair getting too close. He’s attentive but not worried, his hands and breath guide him. A robust flame rewards his efforts, but she’s fleeting and threatens extinction if not refueled swiftly. He knows, he’s ready with larger sticks now, then places a new log across the one I left in there from June. 

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave good-bye.

Words, pauses, crackles, another hair warning. Full darkness, faces illuminated by shadowy flashes as the fiery glutton consumes his offerings looking for more. The heat begins to sustain itself, balance. Like the equinox I am honoring. The teens leave, I remain. I want to be reflective but I’m just grateful to have had a summer. I thought I’d be long gone in March. My daughter and her friend come outside, then my husband, and I invite each of them to add some material. They are quiet, intentional, as each places a stick.

Thoughtfulness settles in as nature’s confetti of ash and smoke dissipate silent wishes. They leave, I remain. Someday this will be the reverse, I think to myself. I leave, you remain. Am I this fallen twig, this reclaimed log, eventually to be consumed by…. Or perhaps “consume” isn’t right. Maybe I am ash, smoke, swirling, soaring into new realms, released by the wood. 

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go. 

9:54 p.m. 

Welcome, autumn. 

Head On and Heart Strong!

Love, Erica

Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit

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