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Popular fire pits are throwbacks to time spent talking, not texting

By Lee Cataluna

LAST UPDATED: 1:47 a.m. HST, Oct 19, 2010

Never mind the plans for the infinity pool or the fountain shaped like an oversize vase. The new thing in outdoor decor is the fire pit.

Pack up the trampoline. Deflate the inflatable pool. Drain the koi pond. Even Walmart is selling fire pits in its home and garden department. You know an item has gone mainstream if it's in Walmart.

They're all the rage across the mainland. HGTV reports, "According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, fire pits, or outdoor fireplaces, are the No. 1 requested design feature today."

Hotels are putting in fire pits surrounded by chaise lounges. Homeowners are choosing between brick, mortared stone and metal bowls for their backyard fire pits. Magazines are offering mixed-drink recipes for around-the-fire pit sipping and articles on fire pit conversation starters:

"So, where did you get this fire pit?"

"Did you put it in yourself?"

"If you had a fire pit, what kind of fire pit would it be?"

It's like a backyard version of the old school homecoming rally bonfire or the Labor Day campfire down at the beach with the cousins. Snuggly, mesmerizing, conducive to bonding, philosophizing or catharsis.

The whole trend is almost a backlash against the online generation, where people sit alone in front of computer screens communicating remotely and anonymously. Fire pits promise just the opposite. They're a link to ancient tribal rituals. Everyone sits in a circle, gazes from the fire to the faces, back to the fire, and talks about everything and nothing and all sorts of deep, personal stuff. Though the fire might flicker, flare up or die down, it doesn't change like quick-cut video or online gaming. The only interactivity a fire pit offers is between you and the lighter fluid. The rest is interpersonal, real time and intimate, as though the people around the circle are joined in a sacred trust.

It's like an antidote, a return to those long-ago beach fires in the sand when everybody was drinking Primo and singing Kalapana and talking about how things were so trippy.

Fire pits seem made for Hawaii. This is a place that knows how to sit together and talk story.

Except ...

...There's a big part of the nouveau fire pit culture that doesn't translate here: You're supposed to make this fire pit in your back yard and then sit around it and ... talk.

Not cook.

OK, maybe a marshmallow, but certainly no kal bi or hulihuli anything.

Wait, what? What's the point?

The point is to create a place for outdoor nighttime quiet conversation. Gaze into the fire, snuggle under your poncho, pretend like you can pick out constellations, bare your soul, sip your wine. Like that. No teriyaki kebabs, though. Waste time, yeah?

Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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