The Camp Fire

The day of paddling, exploring, and fishing is over. Dinner has been made, eaten and dishes washed and packed away. Evening beverages and snacks are beckoning, but first, a proper campfire must be prepared. An adequate pile of wood is placed near the fire pit, a ‘poking stick’ is made so that burning logs and coals can be moved around inside the pit as needed, chairs are arranged in a circle, the fire is lit, and the blaze is stoked to a perfect height. Snacks and drinks are obtained, and everyone takes their seat; let the evening activity begin.

The question is, what is the lure of the campfire? For something so simple, it serves many purposes; it cooks, it heats, it entertains, and it is hypnotic. I can’t think of any time I have been camping that I, and those with me, have not thought about the evening fire. It is almost as natural a piece of equipment as is a tent or canoe. It is something that is not given much thought but is missed if not there. Tell me how much you think about the lack of a campfire when there is a fire ban on.

Starting at a young age, kids love a campfire because it is synonymous with marshmallows and s’mores. It means staying up till it is dark and listening to the snapping and popping of the wood and sparks flying up into the air like fireflies. It means twirling the glowing end of a burning stick in the night air to write your name or making designs. It means ghost stories, jokes, and staying up past regular bedtime. There are a thousand and one reasons to enjoy a campfire and we are all different in our reasoning.

As you sit back in your chair and watch the flames dance in the fire pit, the smoke changes direction and comes straight into your face. At first you hold your breath and squint your eyes, but that does not work for very long. You stand up and move your chair out of the line of the smoke and, just as you get settled and comfortable, the smoke shifts again, right at you. As this is the fourth time you have moved your chair, you realize that constantly moving is not going to be worth it, so you persevere until, at last, the smoke changes direction and starts someone else coughing and complaining of burning eyes.

As the group settles in, conversations begin. There is no rhyme or reason to the things discussed. There is no agenda for the fireside meeting. Topics include the day’s events, the good and the bad, with teasing about who caught the biggest fish and since it didn’t make it all the way in the boat, it is not counted as a caught fish. Plans for the next day are talked about, as are gear issues, route difficulties and changes, and maybe a map is brought out and double checked. I know I have maps that have burn marks on them from popping hot sparks.

One of my favourite things to say when asked what was talked about around the fire is “Everything and Nothing” as the topics change so fast, like a dog seeing a squirrel. One topic leading into the next and the next and the next. By the time the evening is a couple hours in, we have covered everything from fishing lure colours to favourite cookies to what car we would buy if money were no option to “you think it will be possible to paddle the liquid metallic hydrogen ocean of Jupiter in the future?”

As the night wears on, the conversations dwindle, the snacks disappear and the sound of quiet weighs heavy in the darkness around you. As you slowly sip your drink, talking turns to listening and you find yourself looking past the flames and deeper into the fire, into the very heart of it, where the orange coals are generating massive amounts of heat and light. Deeper and deeper you stare, losing awareness of those around you and soon even the sounds are shut out. You stare into the fire, thinking of things done during the day, of things yet to come, and soon you are dreaming with your eyes open. You are no longer sitting with a group of people, you are alone, drawn deep within the fire, embracing the warm, comfortable glow. You are at total peace with the world. You are completely in the moment, in the here and now. It seems that nothing can break this bond of peacefulness that has fallen upon you.

Suddenly, you jerk back to reality, pulled back from the brink of sleep by a loud ‘POP’ from a burning log. Like a spurned lover, you are kicked back to the group and to your chair, no longer one with the glowing coals. You blink a few times, take a sip of your drink and look at the quiet people around you. You recognize the looks on their faces and know that they have been lured in with the promise of peace and warmth. You know that at any second their dream will be shattered and they will rejoin you in reality. But until that time, you go back to staring into the fire and soon feel yourself drifting towards the depths once again, not caring if it is real or not. It is so attractive and inviting that you must give in to it. Like an addict, you must have more, and it is a mere few feet from you, all yours for the taking.

There is no fighting it, you fall to the charms of the fire once again.

Eventually the night comes to an end. One by one everyone stands up, stretches, and heads off with a quiet “good night”. The flames are gone and all that remains is the bright red-hot coals. Reluctantly, water is poured over the coals and with a loud hiss and a huge cloud of smoke and steam rising into the air, the campfire comes to an end. Stirring up the coals with the poking stick to ensure it is out, you turn towards your sleeping bag with the promise of another fire tomorrow night.

~ Sean Rowley

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