3.07.2007

Fun on the farm, or how to get rid of unwanted nose hair

It's almost springtime here in New Mexico, which might come as a surprise to you, unless you happen to live in a place where spring is also coming. What differs here, however, is that come spring, a favorite pastime is to set one's yard on fire. This is to clear away the prior year's amassment of leaves, goatheads, tumbleweeds, and fluttering Jehovah's Witness pamphlets. (Amid the hiss and pop of a burning refuse pile, you can sometimes hear a faint voice say, "I'll get you back for this.")

Having done little to stem the tide of vegetation last summer, I had a fantastic amount of burnable biomass left over. So, I collected the tinder into piles and waited for a burn day, so designated by the fire department when the winds and humidity favor such raucous good times. Surely it would be entertaining, but it was also a necessary strike against some of the more hideous members of the plant kingdom. Chief among these is the goathead, which, if you're unfamiliar, is a devastating enemy of shoes, flesh, and bike tires, and hell on dogs' paws. A creeping, tentacled weed, goatheads leave a swath of multi-spiked seeds that are solid as wood and cause man and animal alike to howl in pain. The plants have so permeated southwestern culture that poker players in Texas and New Mexico on occasion say "goathead" rather than "go ahead" when checking.

At last the burn day came and I set out with my floppy hat, sunglasses, gloves, and barbecue lighter (the point of these details will become clear in a moment). Now goatheads, which clump in a thick mass of vines, burn slowly and without much vigor, while tumbleweeds, though hard to get started, are explosive and chaotic once lit. Three dry tumbleweeds stacked together can make a searing ten-foot flame, the pulse of which can be felt 30 feet away. This knowledge I acquired after the fact. As it was, I lit the base of one stack in several places, and watched unimpressed as the goatheads and cottonwood leaves at the bottom began a slow, smoky burn.

I decided to add some more tumbleweeds to the mix, and carried over a few from the edge of the corral. I took them and smashed them into the pile, and just as I did, the whole eight-foot stack fairly exploded in my face! It seemed the wind had picked up at the same moment I was compressing the pile, and a storm of flames lashed at me. As quickly as reflex would allow I turned and dove away from the inferno, and could tell right away that my face had been licked by the fire. I grabbed the hose and doused my stinging cheeks and neck, and was greatly thankful that the gloves, hat, long-sleeved shirt, and sunglasses had spared the rest.

For the remainder of the day I was aware of a burnt smell, which I attributed to my smoke-saturated clothing. It was the darnedest thing, then, that the smell didn't go away when I was stripped and in the shower...and then I thought, "Hmmm...smells sort of like burnt hair." I hopped out of the shower and checked myself in the mirror. Top of my head? No problem. Eyebrows? Still there. Nose? Not a single hair left in there...

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