Sacred Campfire

I understand and respect the need to protect our forests and open areas. It means the guttering flame of a small camp stove may become more symbolic of experiences for some than the smells of wood smoke and the glowing embers of a campfire. Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy campfires most places we take in on treks we take in the future.

I like to keep my campfires small. It’s easier to find adequate wood for a small fire, uses less of it, and you can huddle over, or near, a small fire to cook or warm up. I think small fires are less likely to get away from a camper and ignite a forest fire. On many hikes and cross-country ski runs, I’ve built a small fire to heat water for tea or soup. With small, dead twigs, it’s easy to build a quick fire, and just as easy to handle the remains when finished.

I understand fire was (and probably still is) considered a sacred gift to Native Americans. It’s hard to think of a more valuable one. I’ve been camping in wet, snow-slushy weather trying to get damp wood to provide a campfire and down to one match. Not often-but it happened once. That fire was greatly appreciated when I achieved it. Which brings me to thoughts about fire-building materials.

I grew up using wooden matches that would ignite when struck on almost anything, including my jeans. I learned to dip the heads in my mother’s clear fingernail polish to make the waterproof. The polish also the matchsticks a little extra zip. Now there are propane torches for lighting barbecues. I wonder how often they are also taken into the back country to start a fire? I have one of those survival bars you can scrape with a knife blade to produce a generous shower of sparks for starting fires. You can also use the knife to shave off bits of magnesium to use as tender. It works well. At the very least, it’s a terrific backup.

You know what also works well for tender? The cotton wads you can find in medicine bottles ignites very readily with a spark. Cotton is certainly light and packs down easily. I think it’s another must for backup fire-making material. If you are familiar with milkweed, the dried pods and fluff ignite extremely well from a spark. Of course, the cotton or milkweed pod is pretty much part of an ignition system. For the rest, you need slivers and small sticks of wood, of course, and if you’re in an area with birch trees, the resinous bark of birches is fabulous as starting tender.

I love the smell of birch wood burning, but I love the smell of cedar even more. I have many memories of evenings cooking on a campfire, and hours spent staring into the glowing embers while talking with a companion. I look forward to my next campfire, and hope you share my love for them. Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m sorry not to have any photos to share. I have been have been unable to insert them into my blog for some reason.

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