Pat’s Wildways: Backyard fire

By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
March 3, 2022

A customized fire pit decorated with wildlife from the Okefenokee contains my backyard fires.

This is the time of year when I really enjoy my backyard fire pit. The air is clear, cool and bugless. The backyard azaleas are blooming. The oak wood in my bin is dry and ready to go. Dinner has been prepared and served and it’s time to relax. Perfect.

My fire pit is unique. It is made from the end of a propane tank and was customized for me by a guy in the Okefenokee. He talked to me on the phone and then adorned its edge with metal otters, turtles, gators, water birds and words saying “Pat’s Swamp Tours.” I had to meet him in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge parking lot to pick it up and pay. He was an old timer then and that was more than 15 years ago. I doubt if he is still in business but I treasure his artwork.

There is nothing like the flames of a good fire to soothe the soul, and my soul needs soothing. A dear friend, Jean Taylor, passed away this week and it’s mostly all I can think of. But with a fire, there are immediate needs, like placing the tinder and kindling just right, adjusting the positions of the wood, poking the logs and blowing on the coals. All this “here and now” is a soothing ritual for me.

As I gaze into the fire my heart is full of memories of all the great times Jean and I spent together in the 20 plus years of our close friendship. And, you readers that didn’t know Jean personally have met her through my many columns that featured our adventures in New Mexico, on a boat trip along the St. Johns River, on horseback rides, on beach walks. She and I used to go on long Sunday walks downtown, but as her health failed these turned to “bench walks” where we walked only as far as the nearest bench, but still could share details of our lives with each other. And those following my latest columns know that I spent a lot of recent time driving with Jean through Fort Clinch State Park when she could no longer walk, just days before she became unresponsive.

One or two otters have recently visited our pond, leaving piles of leaves scraped into a mound and decorated with their scat, a sign for other otters passing through, here’s hoping.

Luckily there are other aspects to my backyard fire that keeps me occupied. Although I buy oak wood logs I need the smaller stuff to set them afire. And, with woods right in my own backyard, this is part of the fun of it all.

So, I went into the woods on a scavenger hunt for the right sticks of wood, and a couple of surprises greeted me. First of all, a native azalea plant that I placed back in the woods is now in full bloom. And, best surprise of all—there were fresh signs of an otter visit to our pond–something that has not happened for years. Was this Jean’s gift to me? She would certainly laugh at my notion that she left me otter scat as a pick—me– up. I will always miss her laugh.

As I was getting ready to let my fire burn to coals I looked up to the top of a bald cypress tree Bucko and I planted years ago. This tree now towers over our backyard gazebo. And, this evening a great horned owl perched on top, watching my actions with the fire.

At Jean’s burial in Bosco Bello Cemetery I brought some of those beautiful native azalea flowers to put on the casket. I guess this is my last gift to her. Rest in Peace Jean and know that those you have left behind will always have you firmly in our hearts. Goodbye dear friend.


Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]


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Sharon Sheets
Sharon Sheets (@guest_64121)
1 year ago

I played golf with Jean. What a wonderful person she was! Loved reading about her in your column!

Christine Clare
Christine Clare (@guest_64122)
1 year ago

That was a beautiful tribute to your friend….and to your friendship.

George Broughton
George Broughton(@brougeo)
1 year ago

Thanks Pat, my wife and I know what it’s like to lose close friends, unfortunately. We lost both of ours about 5 years ago. Bob and Nanc, passed within 6 months of each other,in their early 60’s. We knew each other since our teens.

Shirley McKain
Shirley McKain (@guest_64124)
1 year ago

Jean & I had been friends for 20 years plus! Played golf with her and shared other activities with her. She was a smiling, happy, lovely person and I will miss her so much. Enjoyed your adventures with her through your column, & really enjoy your column.