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Campfires - To Burn or Not to Burn
A big part of the romance of camping is the campfire. The ring of stones, the little teepee of logs and bright flame dancing in the darkness harkens back to our Neolithic ancestors and reminds us that the ability to control fire is a big part of what makes us human.
A fire warms us on a chilly night. It serves as a focal point for cooking hot-dogs and S’mores and calls up all those half-remembered folk songs that involve a lot of repetition. A fire keeps bugs away and deters vampires, monsters and boogey-men.
A campfire also makes a big mess. Building a fire sends people out into the woods to gather fallen branches that are supposed to break down to make the duff – that nice, soft forest floor. A fire can get out of control and cause horrendous devastation.
The campfire can become an obsession. You constantly fiddle with it, feed it and must guard it constantly. It destroys your night vision. The fire as a focal point isolates you in an island of brightness beyond which you see nothing. You could set up your campfire in the middle of a parking lot for all you’re aware of the world outside the fire circle.
I used to love our campfire. After carefully clearing the area of everything, I’d build a small teepee fire about 8 feet away from a large fallen log which provided comfortable seating.
When a mean forest ranger invaded our campsite one day to inform us that the rules had changed, campfires were now forbidden in the area, I was heartbroken. He also instructed me that Smokey Bear’s middle name was not ‘The,’ engendering a discussion that lasted longer than the campfire discussion.But… nights in the woods with no campfire gave us a magnificent view of the night sky, shooting stars and once a faint glimpse of the Aurora borealis – pale white curtains of light fluttering in the northern sky. We never would have noticed it if we had a fire going.
Without the snapping and popping of fire, we heard the loons and the frogs and the soft swish of air in the hemlocks. Without our obsession with the campfire, we felt free to roam our little island where we camped, to dwell in sweet silence, washed in the aroma of the lake and the trees. Plus, we didn’t walk around smelling like we bought our clothes at a fire sale.
- No campfire meant no big mess of scorched rocks and logs and a great smear of ashes.
- No campfire meant less worrying about the fool left in charge of it when I went to bed.
- No campfire means less impact on our natural surroundings.
Open fires are becoming less acceptable in these days of low impact camping. Stoves are more environmentally friendly and easier for cooking. Many areas outright forbid fire.
If you must have a campfire, closely follow campground rules and fire safety guidelines. Me – I like the cool, quiet night, the stars and the sweet, smokeless air. I’m sorry that I was snippy to that fire stanching ranger and in his honor, remind you how Smokey Bear used to say – ‘you can prevent forest fires. No 'The.'