Burning is a Maine rite of spring. Something ancient and therapeutic occurs when we send winter’s slash up in smoke.

A burn pile ought to be communal. So I invited my friend Brian to join me beside a fire.

Henry David Thoreau was there, too. In “Walden,” Thoreau says man’s possessions are “more easily acquired than got rid of,” and he cites the Mucclasse Indian burn ritual. The village would burn old food and belongings to cleanse and purify, followed by a fresh start. Even the fire on the hearth would be restarted by their high priest.

“I have scarcely heard of a truer sacrament,” Thoreau writes, “as the dictionary defines it: ‘outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.’ We often forget that resolutions may begin with the motive to be different, new. But to be successful, the reformer must make room.”

Mine would become a full scale busk ritual, the ceremonial opportunity to burn pages of clippings, notes, and English teaching gleanings – an accretion of 20 years. Was there a more fitting outward sign of inward grace – to say nothing of cleaning the basement? Thoreau would approve.

I started with the “A-through-H” box. Should I make sure that nothing irreplaceable was going up in smoke? A slippery slope. Once you start sorting, the quibbling begins. If I had not needed my college notes on Sherwood Anderson by now, I never would. If the precious articles on Frost, Fitzgerald and Hemingway had gone unread all these years, were they really so precious? Deadwood. Fuel for inner grace.

As the Mucclasse Indians knew, the actual collector of all these files was long gone. What I deemed important 20 years ago now seems dusty and stale. Data is static, transitory in value. The collector is dynamic, searching. Each day is a fresh fire of inquiry. A through H crackled and hissed on the pile of logs and branches.

This ritual was satisfying. I went back for more. Goodbye Ibsen, Keats, Milton, The New York Times, Restoration comedy, Shakespeare … even Thoreau himself.

Wait! Here were the fattest folders: Shakespeare. He took up 6 inches of file-drawer space with numerous plays I’d used in my English courses, with critical gems, wonderful writing assignments. This was The Bard, after all. Could I divest myself of the greatest writer in the English language?

Resolution: The Bard lives; my Bard files do not. As the afternoon progressed, 10 linear feet of paper files were consumed. My drawers are cleansed. There is room for the new.

This morning I inspected the ashes. It was sunny, windy, and the first songbirds of spring – the thrush and red-winged blackbird– trilled at the verge of my field. I stirred the embers of memory. I could still recognize some pages of type. The rest is gone. I now have room for the ritual of new collections.