Wednesday, July 20, 2005


When I was a child, I loved the campfire, and I was so proud when I was the one who would build it. Gathering wood was an ongoing family activity. We picked up sticks on the way back from every walk. Now, in Canada's Provincial Parks, where we often camp, gathering firewood is against the rules. This is an ecologically sound rule, it allows the forest to recycle itself and standing wood to provide homes for owls and wood peckers. But it is still a loss worthy of mourning for campers. I miss the woodgathering.

Because of the firewood gathering ban and the ban on bringing wood from the States that might be infested with emerald ash borers and other pests, we have to buy wood. One time, Keith was terribly upset because the wood we purchased was punky. Lo and behold, that night, he discovered it glowing on the campsite around his chopping block--it was full of foxfire, and it was his first. He hung a piece in the tent and that night, it stormed. Lightning flashed and then faded and the foxfire glowfilled the tent. They alternated all night in a magical night we'll never forget.

As children, we loved to write our names with glowing sticks, toast marshmallows, sing, and tell stories. As older children, my father always challenged us to build and light a fire with a single match and we got so we could do it under even the most difficult situations. But as a wilderness camper, I rarely built fires, choosing instead to do what little cooking required on a small backpacking stove. Now, we usually build a cooking fire but do not sit around it after dinner. We don't have the extended family, just the two or three of us. I miss the camaraderie of all that.

While campfires are romantic, burning trash is not. We burned all our burnable trash when I was a child. We had a large barrel-shaped cage out back. One of our childhood chores was a daily turn burning trash--it was a chore we enjoyed. We had to be careful not to allow any of the burning pieces to blow away and if they did, put them out immediately. The neighbors had a similar burning basket, and one dry windy summer day, some of their trash blew out and set the neighborhood on fire. We kids watched out the back window as the adults beat on the fire with wet burlap bags. It was exciting and scary.

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