Unfortunately, for you -the reader, the title of this blogpost may be a little misleading. You see, I really don’t know how one starts the perfect campfire. I didn’t grow up camping. I never learned to start a fire with a flint, stoke that fire, or cook an edible meal over an open flame. I lived in the city. I found camping later in life, a comfortable kind of camping where you get in your RV and drive your living room and bathroom facilities with you, park it in a desirable location, and essentially camp in complete and total comfort.
Even though I lived in the city, I always enjoyed visiting the wilderness. I enjoyed spending the day hiking through the woods, sitting by a crackling fire, swimming in the lakes, and picnicking under ancient trees. I also liked leaving, sleeping in my own bed, where there are no bugs, in the coolness of air-conditioning. That’s why camping in an RV is so appealing. In an RV, one can visit beautiful and remote places while finding respite in the comforts of home.
I once spent the night in a tent. This was likely one of the worst nights of my entire life. When I was about 17, my cousin and uncle invited me to hike part of the Appalachian Trail. Even though I had not grown up hiking and camping, I had always dreamed of being the kind of person that hiked and camped. There is something both brave and adventurous that I associate with a person who can easily use the restroom behind a tree. I wanted to be that kind of person.
Our plan was to spend a week on the trail, carrying all the gear we needed for survival on our backs, and sleeping under the stars each night. When I arrived and we began the trek, it was quickly apparent that my cousin and uncle were not in hiking shape. After only a few hours on the trail, my uncle looked like he was going to have a heart attack and my teenage male cousin only cared about finding a stream to wash his hair. It wasn’t even time for lunch yet, but his sweaty hair was already unacceptable. We only lasted one night.
I must admit that although I always dreamed of being the kind of person that could hike the Appalachian Trail, I was relieved when we plodded our way back to the Honda Accord which was surprisingly close to where we camped (we hadn’t gotten far), packed our gear in the back, and took off for the comforts of civilization. I was happy to leave because I had spent the entire night trying to find and remove a rock that was poking me in the back through the floor of the tent and listening to my cousin lament the loss of clean hair. The thought of an entire week of such discomfort was more than I could bare (If only one could sleep in an RV along the trail what a better experience it would have been!).
One of the highlights of the entire 24-hour trip was the nighttime campfire. After a day of hiking, we found an adequate campsite and set up our tents. My uncle wanted to start the campfire to cook supper. He told me the kind of wood to collect for the perfect campfire. It wasn’t hard. He needed some sticks, some dry brush, and some larger dry logs. I collected the items on the list and my uncle layered them according to size, the larger logs on the bottom. Before long, we had a lovely raging fire and a pot of boiling water for Ramen noodles. As the shadows grew long, our bellies fool of cheap college food, we settled in around the fire watching the flames frolic and dance. The fire was a lone beacon of light in the vast darkness of the wilderness, a kind of an analogy for our place in the world, small, bright, and fierce with all the potential to burn down the forest but contained by the boundaries of its kindling. The campfire beckons. It calls us home to a place beyond our understanding, somewhere in the subconscious that understands how the ghosts of our ancestors used its power for survival and to forge the foundation of our civilization.
The quest to build the perfect campfire is easily obtained. Any way will do. You don’t need me to tell you that. The campfire itself is the goal. The fire will find its way no matter how you stack the logs. The prefect campfire is the one that you start and tend. The one that you pursue in the wilderness. The one that you and your family sit around, eating and laughing and telling stories, making memories. The perfect campfire happens every time our family hits the road in the RV, sets up camp and pulls out the fixings for s’mores. It is perfect every time.
The fire illuminates the past. It connects us to the beginning. It is a reminder that even with all the comforts of our century, like internet, air conditioning and sleeping in the comfy bed of an RV, we are lost without the foundations of nature, the firelight in the darkness that calls us home. Being in nature, no matter how we go about it, whether in a tent or in an RV, brings us back to the source.