There are few things as relaxing as sitting outdoors around a campfire with family members or friends. It’s a bonding experience as old as humankind beginning with the first person who discovered how to make flames burst forth from a few sticks. I can only imagine how mystical that experience must have been when light and warmth burst forth to transform the darkness. Each time that I see a pile of logs ignite I think of that moment and how it was as much a leap forward for mankind as the eventual landing on the moon.
I’ve been camping all over the United States and spent more than a good share of time under the spell of colorful flames and crackling wood. There is something spiritual about sitting under the stars feeling a kind of kinship with the entirety of history. Going back to the basics of existence brings a sense of peace and stability in a world that so often feels as though it is about fall off of a precipice any second. Away from the never ending race of society it’s easier to be philosophical, able to see things as they really are. Sharing such a time with loved ones makes it even more magical.
I have so many fond memories of being with my husband and daughters far away from the distractions that sometimes invaded our family bliss. Around the glowing embers of a campfire it was only the four of us whispering, laughing and feeling as though we were capable of conquering the world. We were free to totally be ourselves, to be honest, silly, however we wished to be. We told stories and dreamed of what our futures might be. There is little that I have accumulated during my existence that is of more value to me than the memories of those nights when we knew beyond any doubt how fortunate we were to have each other.
We liked to take turns telling tales. They might be outrageous, funny or scary. It didn’t matter as long as we allowed our imaginations to run free. I sometimes wish that I had recorded the stories or written them down. It would be so much fun to look back on the wonder of it all with a saved history of our glorious times. Instead I have to rely on memory which often fades over time. All that is left is a feeling that somehow brings me as much comfort as I felt back when the actual adventure was unfolding.
Campfires always seem to bring out the child in me. They tempt me to roast marshmallows and make s’mores, treats that I have never exactly liked but that brings me untold pleasure nonetheless. I love the taste of hot dogs cooked over the flames and potatoes baked in the embers. Everything seems to taste better around a fire. Everything feels more vivid.
It takes patience and a bit of skill to build a great fire that lasts until the night grows old and all of the conversations have stopped. We have a dear friend who is a master of the art. He brings his own wood that has been dried to perfection. He builds a kind of pyramid and uses chips and shavings to get the process started. He makes it appear to be easier than it actually is which always makes me wonder if that first fire was the result of an inventive soul or just a lucky accident. I suppose that we will never know for certain but what a wondrous sight that must surely have been if even I am filled with awe each time that I see the flames burst forth.
There was one particular time around a campfire that lingers in my mind. My youngest brother and his two sons had come with us. The boys were openly disappointed to be roughing it in the outdoors when their real wish had been to spend time at Disney World. They were openly sulking throughout the day as we hiked along trails and viewed scenic vistas. We had visited a tiny bookstore at the end of our activities and I suggested that each person find a book with chapters to share with one another when we built a fire that evening. A bit of excitement ensued as we searched the stacks for something unique.
Later, after we had eaten and prepared our tents for sleeping, we gathered around a fire and began to share our finds. It was so exciting that we lost track of time and continued the readings until the last flames turned into red embers. After that nobody mentioned Disney World again. Instead we anxiously planned each night’s entertainment while we experienced the best of nature during the day. Before long we were creating our own stories which somehow seemed even better than the ones we had read from books. We celebrated the sheer joy of being together and using talents that we had not even realized we had.
I feel for anyone who has never enjoyed the campfire experience. It is ingrained in who we are as humans and until we have done it, we haven’t really lived. Given the craziness of life these day perhaps it might even be a kind of panacea for all that ails us. Go somewhere away from the madding crowd. Make a campfire, have a chat, watch the healing begin.