The fancy flashlight slipped from her hand into the fire pit. Before my mind could process how hot the rocks were, I palmed a boulder and pushed the flashlight back to grab it before it burned. My mission to save the flashlight from demise was a success. But in the process, I acquired a hand full of blisters. My more outdoorsy cousin and camping trip companion stared at me in awe. It likely was awe of my stupidity, but it was awe, nonetheless.
We weren’t going to tell her father, my uncle, we carelessly dropped his expensive flashlight in the fire. We weren’t going to tell him I had second-degree burns either. We were at a campsite in Vermont. Even though we were only ten feet from his tent, he’d never leave us out here by ourselves again.
He was the one who’d conjured up all the grandiose adventures we thoroughly enjoyed, but letting us hang out together at a late-night fire was somehow more special. My cousin and I had a natural bond based on our common bloodline and our age – we were only five months apart. And there is something primal and uniting about sitting around a fire surrounded by the sounds of nature and genuine conversation. As the fire died out, we got ready to sleep in our tent and vowed to keep my right hand a secret.
The fire had taught us an important lesson: It could keep our secrets, and so could we. Could there be a better feeling for two awkward pre-teen females trying to navigate life?
An orange streak shoots up in the sky as I hear a cracking and sizzling sound. I’m brought back to the present moment and I smile feeling a reminiscent bond that has faded over the years. The fire in front of me dwindles down, so I toss in another sprig from the Christmas tree that has lived behind my shed for the past five months. I admire the fire as it comes back to life. It may be April, but I’m taken back to the magic of this past Christmas. The sharp and sweet aroma of pine, the sticky sap getting stuck on my gloves, and a savored moment of Santa that inspired squeals of joy. The warm sunshine on my skin reminds me it’s not December. I store the feeling in my memory for later.
Fire has always been a comforting element for me, but I was rarely ever the one controlling it. It’s a more mesmerizing experience when you’re controlling something so primitive and destructive. It’s easy to get preoccupied with something else and let the fire die out. It’s also easy for a gust of wind to blow, carrying the fire somewhere it shouldn’t be. It’s not uncommon to leave with a burn or two signifying your engagement with the entire event. It’s exhilarating to have that much power over a situation. Even if the fire stays completely under control, you can’t leave the scene without smelling like its very essence. And that smell will stay with you until you wash it away.
If you play with fire, you can get burned. If you play with the rocks around the fire, you can also get burned. Fire doesn’t lie, and it lingers with you. It destroys anything that gets too close. But it also gives warmth and provides a wonderful environment for connection and closeness. It’s a portal back to our primitive natures.
Fire will always be a dangerous, comforting, and mesmerizing element. And I’ll always appreciate its magnificence.
Joanna, when I traveled across the south in the late 1969 working on farms. I spent many nights around a campfire. It was always mystical to me and yes I got burnt. Great article
“And there is something primal and uniting about sitting around a fire surrounded by the sounds of nature and genuine conversation.”
I used to travel with some of my teaching buddies to Quetico Provincial Park (sw Ontario) every year after school ended. We would fish from canoes during the day, and at night we would sit around our campfire fire and tell stories. Some of the stories were true, and some were half-truths, and I suspect, some were totally false. It didn’t matter. What mattered were the embers lighting our faces and the togetherness.
Thanks for a powerful trigger.
I, too, have several wonderful memories around a fire. Those embers and that togetherness. It’s a large part of being human. Thanks for you comment!