Oct 21, 2004

What do you do

There’s a man I heard about in Montana who’s in prison for starting a grass fire. It killed a couple of people, firemen maybe, and the families of the dead were demanding justice and the neighbors all scowled at him and the court said recklessness and manslaughter and he was convicted of a couple of misdemeanors and a felony and I guess there was more legal language to it than that, but what he did was mow his field during a dry spell without carrying a fire extinguisher.

Hit a rock. Spark caught. Somebody died.

He just hadn’t thought about it. He was just mowing. The grass’d got long in the spring and he’d been too busy and now he’d been thinking it needed to get cut real short and without any rain he wouldn’t have to cut it until late fall and he was doing circles on a Saturday with a ball cap attempting shade and his skin was all itchy from the scratchy dry grass shredded by double blades and floating gnat-cloud like around the mower and he was coughing and spitting up the dust when he hit the rock. Heard it and winced at the garbling grinding gnarl of the crunch of a rock hitting the double blades with a double thump, clanged up against the housing and got spat out the grass shot with sling shot sound effects and he winced at the noise and thought that blade’ll need sharpening and then there was fire.

Nobody said so, but a fire extinguisher probably wouldn’t have done anything. You just can’t move fast enough when it’s that dry. I mean he stomped on the flames and thought for a second he had it, got it out, thought almost - please - almost, and thought that he was gonna get back on the mower in a second and finish and just be telling people he’d had a close one, and then the fire just took off and there wasn’t nothing he could do. Even if he’d a had shovel or if there’d a been a hose out there, the fire was too fast. Once it started.

The fire moved out in ripples from the rock's spark, light brown grass turned to dark gray smoke in huge ugly billows rolling up to heaven lazy and easy and unstoppable and the man was standing in the ash-black circle, his mower still idling, and he was cursing almost crying and there wasn’t nothing he could do.

He’s in prison now. For four to six years I think, I’m not sure. I wonder what he’s gonna do when he gets out.