Curious Nature: An ode to the campﬁre
Ryan Summerlin July 28, 2012
Oh, Campfire, you are wondrous beyond words. Your marvels are unsurpassed. Oh, great bringer of light, warmth and protection, we love your warmth and sanctuary. May you once again burn brightly and brilliantly, lighting up the night with fierce energy and wild light.
The day has come when you can send your sparks skyward until they blend seamlessly with the stars that are themselves giant balls of fire floating aimlessly through space. Your flickering light and waves of warmth take us back to our primitive roots, when fire kept away danger and made a place for storytelling and sharing. Oh, campfire, your gifts are many, and followers across the globe sing your praises and tell stories of your deeds.
Campfires have been strictly prohibited under the fire ban in place in Eagle County, which recently went from Stage 2 to Stage 1 restrictions. Even with the recent rains, it’s still dry out there, and it’s easy to understand how even a carefully controlled fire could suddenly tear free from the confines of its puny stone circle and wreak havoc across the land. Fire can go from friend to foe in a matter of seconds, and when the risk is high, we owe it to our friends and neighbors to exercise the utmost caution in our outdoor excursions.
Camping without a campfire always feels like somewhat of an oxymoron, even though I’ve gone on plenty of fabulous fire-free adventures. It takes a change in perspective, though, for those who have always built the traditional bonfire with larger-than-life flames licking the sky. As with every loss, though, there is much to be gained. When we extinguish the bright flickering flames, we open up a whole new night world, one filled with untapped silence and unseen wonders. Nighttime creatures of all sorts reveal themselves in new ways, creeping or swooping closer than usual in their nocturnal quest for food.
People who live in the city are always amazed by the number of stars we can see out here, even from the relatively civilized confines of our small towns. But if you go camping without a fire, you, too, will be amazed by the vastness and brilliance of the night sky, looking as if the brightness were suddenly turned up to 10 on that great dial in the sky. Constellations that you could never quite find will suddenly reveal themselves in exquisite stellar splendor, with every speck and sparkle perfectly in its place, proclaiming their great stories to all who take the time to look.
Perhaps the greatest “around-the-fire” tradition, though, is that of the ghost story. While I seem to have blacked out the actual stories, some of my fondest memories are of being scared silly while my father and his friends took turns trying to terrify us kids. Now that I’m a parent myself, the stories I tell are not scary, as I don’t really enjoy trying to put scared kids to bed, but I still love the tradition of stories around the campfire. And, of course, while the fire keeps us close and warm, we can still tell stories of all kinds while sitting in a close-knit circle and sipping hot drinks under the stars.
Helen Keller said, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” We could all learn a lot from these wise words, and while our primeval souls may scream out for the energy and fury of the campfire, we can challenge ourselves to find happiness and beauty in new places and in new ways. But whatever you do, remember that fire is always a serious threat. So in the name of security and safety, try something new.
Challenge yourself to discover something different in the darkness, and maybe you also will discover something new in yourself.
Jaymee Squires is the director of graduate programs at Walking Mountains Science Center. She has been enjoying the recent rains and is hoping that they continue enough to keep her garden green.