Friday, April 03, 2009

Enjoying The Magic Of A Campfire

One of life’s great experiences is the campfire. Naw, not one of those outdoor infernos with flames shooting 15 feet into the air. My favorite is one made of dry wood, kept small and hot, and a nice chilly evening makes it even better.

These are the head-clearing campfires where problem thoughts seem to vanish, and solving an angling or hunting puzzle makes more sense than anything else.

It’s a time when conversations go one of two ways: we rattle on and on about past fishing or hunting trips, and discuss all sorts of techniques to try to catch more fish the next day.

The other, and the one I highly recommend, is those where there is no need for dialogue. It’s a time when talking is not necessary.

I spent an evening around a campfire near our tent in Ontario’s bush country some years ago, and my friends and I spent two hours is complete silence. Only two things made any noise: the sizzle and pop of a pine cone sputtering to life under a couple of logs that had burned down to glowing embers.

The other sound was the ringing voices of several wolves on the trail of a whitetail deer or a young moose. We heard the animal splash into the lake, apparently just steps ahead of the vice-grip jaws of an adult wolf. The water undoubtedly saved that animal’s life.

The sounds of silence is but one line from a Simon and Garfunkel song, but my philosophy is to explore more quiet and less noise. I want to enjoy the outdoor fire, think my personal thoughts, and back in my days of taking a libation or two or three (which ended 26 years ago), sitting with drink in hand and listening to the fire and the wilderness nearby was some pretty neat stuff.

It’s easy to get lost in yourself in the mystical silence of your own mind. Far down the lake a loon may warble eerily, and up the lake a frightened beaver may slap his tail on the water and then everything goes quiet again.

Campfires are great places to wonder what lies out there just beyond the glow of a dying campfire. Most certainly in various spots I’ve been, there were bears prowling around camp. Pitch a knotty piece of dry pine in their direction, tell them to “Git!” and most of the time they do.

But bears are intrigued by people, and the smells of cooking (even in a clean campsite) is something that seem to bring the animals in. I’ve fallen asleep many times while they prowl around outside, and we’ve never had a problem. People who leave their leather boots outside at night may spend the rest of their trip in stockings with sore feet. Wolves also love to make off with sweaty leather boots.

Building a campfire is one of those things you either learn at an early age or never learn until it’s too late and you’ve missed too many campfires. Cedar or pine works well as a fire starter although it spits and pops.

I start with layers. A tepee is built of dry twigs pointed upward, and it is built around a small ball of dry paper or cedar shavings. Birch bark from a dead birch makes lovely kindling until it begins to rot. Put some dry birch bark, cedar shavings of dry twigs and paper around it, and build another cone of slightly larger pieces of wood, and touch it off.

It will usually take right off, and the small stuff with get the larger sticks going, and then comes even larger sticks and small logs. The most important thing is not to smother the fire with too much wood. Add more wood once it starts to burn down.

A huge fire is uncalled for and can be dangerous if the fire builder didn’t remove all nearby combustibles. Keep the campfire manageable, and it will calm and warm the body and spirit.

The people I most enjoy spending time with around a campfire are those who feel no compelling reason to talk constantly. Five minutes may pass, and then someone will broach a subject, which dies out within five minutes, and then another lengthy spell of silence ensues.

One of my favorite things is to build a small fire in a fire ring or a place surrounded by stones, sit outside in the darkness, study the night sky, listen to the night sounds, and then turn in when the fire burns down to a few glowing embers.

My eyes grow weary as one-by-one, the embers wink out. About the time the last ember burns out, my eyes have closed, and I start resting up for tomorrow’s activities, calm and refreshed from an evening around a campfire.

Enjoying a campfire is one of the outdoors’ best-kept secrets.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/03 at 06:45 PM
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