How to Tell a story

campfire and coyote

around the campfire...

I remember many nights around a campfire in the wilderness called Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Something about the environment, crackling flames, no distractions, contentment. A loon calls, the moon is shining, stars gleam, lightning flashes, pine logs spit burning sap. In our ears the roar of waterfalls, or silence or the wind in the pines. Our clothing is casual and comfortable and our muscles are sore.

It takes a while to get in the mood for a good story. Not necessarily a scary one, but maybe a teaching story, a personal story. There doesn't need to be eye contact. People can gaze into the coals. There is an acceptance of silence and pauses which are uninterrupted by commercials or cell phones. You can talk slow, aware that people are weary from physical work, carrying canoes and packsacks over muddy portages or long hours across lakes or down river with wooden paddles propelled by your sore arms.

The food isn't fancy when you set up camp, but it tastes good and smells good cooking along with the scent of firewood smoke. Once the tents are up and sleeping bags unrolled, there is a feeling that home is established and you feel safe and content. More adventure awaits you the next day or several days, unknown weather, perhaps danger or accident. There is a group dynamic, a need to be alone sometimes, a need to think and ponder.

There are still dishes to do and maybe a book to read and teeth to brush. There might be a feeling of being alone. The mind is freed from technology at this time, from canned laughter and constant news events. At least that's how I remember story time from past canoe trips. Sometimes we would even put away our watches for a week and survive. That was a while ago; not done in a legalistic way, but exploring freedom of distraction.

I miss telling the stories that are shy and rare. I miss hearing them, sometimes someone reading a story from a book they had along. I have told many stories, long ago, but not so many lately. There might be a season in our lives to tell stories around campfires. I am telling a story now. It is personal without being manipulative. It is for my good and there is vulnerability with it. It reveals something. It might have value. Why do I tell this story?

Some can play guitar. Music tells the story. The verses known and unknown. A novel is a long story. LORD of the Rings is a good story. It was even a good movie/ movies. I am on an island on Lac La Croix near Canada. I am tired. I remember Curtain Falls and big northern on Iron Lake. I remember the purest blue water in Ontario on Argo. I can see into the blue green depths. The lake is calm and another campfire is reflected on the water across the bay. There is no noise from that campsite, but the fire dances in the water. There are small lakes with cedar trees and moss covered rocks and water in rapids. There are worn portages or trails with huge trees and granite boulders.

There are willowy rivers with wild rice and a beaver slapping its tail. There are deep forests with spruce and swamps and mud and mosquitoes. The water is cool to swim in, almost cold in the depths, even in August. There are patches of sweet blueberries to pluck and cold spring water to enjoy. There are fresh fish to fry and savor, walleye and pike and crappies. There is the deep sleep of the canoe trip when another day will dawn soon enough.

There is sadness, knowing this group will soon go its own way. There are flashlights to show the way in the dark and mosquitoe bites to scratch. The stories in my mind are of campsites like this one, a hammock strung up between two trees; a person casting off a rock slab, maybe someone smoking a pipe to keep the bugs away. There is the smell of bug spray and fresh socks and mocassins to wear around camp. I don't remember any particular story right now, just the environment in which a story can be told. Maybe a story reflects on the meaning of life. It might tell of someone who died on a canoe trip or was lost. It might be a life lesson or it could be less intense and not so deep. A story might encourage safety and warn of danger.

Then there is the danger of too long a story. There is an art of knowing when to end.

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