Dennis Dezendorf

Art by Joey Dezendorf A wise man once said that if you are ever lost, build a campfire. It will give you something to do. It will focus your attention on something besides your plight. It will provide warmth and keep you in one place. And just about the time you get it going, three people will show up and tell you that you have done it wrong.

There is not much, really, to building a campfire. All fires have three things in common, whether they be the fire near your tent, or the fire in your car engine: heat, air, and fuel. Get enough of all three and the fire will burn. Without either of the three, your fire won't.

Campfires are more than just the physics of combustion. A campfire is the focal point of the camp. It is the center, the hearth. Whether in a ring of logs or in a massive stone fireplace, the fire is the center of the social ring of the camp. The fire sets the tone. Blazing heartily, it brings good cheer and a festive atmosphere. Burning quietly, the fire promotes reflection and a quiet contemplation. As the fire dies in the evening, so does the noise in the camp. Putting another log on the fire before bedtime is a ritual as old as man.

Have you ever lay in your sleeping bag and watched a fire burn to embers? Have you ever struggled with cold socks and frigid pants to straggle out to the fire before dawn? Standing before a crackling fire with an enameled mug of strong coffee, looking at the sky as you try to decide what the weather holds. Listening to the wind in the pines while discussing stands, or blinds, or hunting areas. Sometimes, turning from the fire to walk into darkened woods is a very hard thing to do.

Late in the afternoon, when evening seems to fall like a blanket, the sudden view of a fire through the trees is a warming sight. Before you are within reach of the heat from the flames, the sight of the flame warms the heart and soul. Campfires reside within my memory as places of conversation, instruction, and introspection. Would that more of my life had been spent around campfires. Would that more of our society knew the wisdom that is revealed there, had listened to a favored uncle, or grandfather, near the blaze that centers the camp, the heart.

During the Lewis and Clark expedition in the mountains of our far West, the members of the party were astonished one night when an elderly Indian woman walked up to their campfire. She thought she had found members of her band, and was surprised and frightened to see that they were white men. The men offered her food, which she took, then walked into the woods. Meriweather Lewis speculated that she had been put out of her band because of age or infirmity, to die of starvation or hypothermia. Yet she had come to fire readily, unafraid, knowing that fire meant society and succor.

Such is the power of a campfire.


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