A few weeks ago, I cleaned out all of my old floppy discs and converted the data to my hard drives. I was surprised to find a selection of writings from twenty years ago when I lived in Denver, Colorado.
The City of Denver has a serious pollution problem because it sits in a bowl against the foothills and there is usually a cold inversion layer that holds the exhaust fumes and smoke in the bowl. It hangs over the city like a brown blanket unless there is a strong wind coming off the mountains. So, years ago the city implemented wood burning bans on high pollution days. The piece below was written by the light of my fireplace.
It is autumn. As I pull my car into my garage, the unmistakable scent of wood smoke invades my nostrils. It’s coming from a neighbor’s house. Suddenly, a rush of memories overwhelms my psyche. I see our old fireplace Where the family would gather to tell stories, plan our canoe trips, and roasted marshmallows. I see the wood burning stove that warmed the house at the Farm during the cold January weekends. Then there are the council fires at my Order of the Arrow initiation and the cooking fires on trips into the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area. That sweet, pungent aroma has become part of my very being.
In this day and age of backpacking stoves and wood burning bans, due to high pollution days, my opportunities to add to these memories are becoming scarce. I understand the need for such measures but, I don’t have to like them. My heart goes out to the children of the future who will never know the pleasures of sitting around a campfire with family and friends. The story telling, the songs, the recitation of monologues memorized long ago, the meals that taste so good after a long days work, the stinging of the eyes and the smell, of the wood smoke.
I will always enjoy staring into the heart of a campfire. The Native Americans called it “Fire Dreaming”. The flames form an ever-changing pattern that never repeats itself. The fire sings as the wood hisses and snaps. I can’t help but feel that the fire is talking to me in a language that I once knew but, has escaped me. My cheeks start to glow like the bed of coals that formed underneath the flames. The heat surrounds and penetrates me. The fire consumes all of my cares and worries. All distractions disappear as I am drawn into the Dance of the Flames.
Anyone exposed to campfires will tell you that they can be intoxicating. Total strangers can gather around one and instantly a bond is formed. This must come from sharing the warmth and the light. The fellowship is inescapable. Most times, silence is a big part of this fellowship. However, when silence is not in order, inhibitions are lost and everyone joins in the fun. Jokes, poetry, and songs spring forth from even the shyest of individuals. All time is lost as these episodes can go long into the night.
There is something special about taste of hot dogs or a steak roasted over an open fire. They taste more natural somehow. Or, how about a fresh-baked apple pie or cherry cobbler coming straight out of a Dutch oven or reflector oven? After slogging through the woods all day or battling a twenty-mile an hour head wind across Moose Lake, nothing tastes better than “Beef & Spuds” followed by a piece of fresh Dutch-oven baked German chocolate cake.
Campfires have always been a time of ceremony and emotion. The circle of light that is formed by a fire at night is a safe haven from the surrounding darkness. The contrast of darkness and light is dramatic and sets the mood for the ceremony to follow. The fire seems to draw out our most basic emotions, amplify them and send out into the cosmos riding on sparks and smoke.
I smile as I step out of my car. I grab a few pieces of oak from the woodpile and carry them inside. I sure hope the Air Quality Index is Blue because there will be a fire in this house tonight!
And yes, it was a Blue Air Quality Index the night I wrote this.