What is autumn without at least one bonfire? The crisp air nearly asks for the sharp scent of burning wood and the crackling of kindling in the cold night air, the sparks rushing upward to disappear just overhead. Perhaps with bonfires included in these autumn celebrations we are expressing that primordial fear of the coming darkness, the long nights growing longer, and the rituals of our ancestors that held the night at bay until it began growing longer again.
“Bonfire” is derived, in short, from “bone fire”, an annual ritual of Celtic peoples who burned animal bones at Samhain to ward off evil spirits, and of later European people who burned the oldest bones in crowded churchyards or cemeteries to allow space for new interrments and to ensure that those disinterred would not haunt them at All Hallow’s Eve, when uneasy spirits were known to come calling.
This particular bonfire burned only scrap lumber, wooden pallets and downed trees at the Nightwalk on the Panhandle Trail.