Building Fires


Building Fires

My family were campers, so I learned at a fairly early age that a campfire was essential to the camping experience.  Better yet, I learned that building a fire myself was a required skill.  That spoke loudly to my little boy heart!

Any fire needs to build.  No natural fire starts as an inferno.  One afternoon while bowhunting in the mountains of northern Nevada I witnessed a lightning strike, thankfully high up on the opposite side of the ravine I was climbing up.  The lightning hit a fairly small area where there was a bit of creosote bush and sage growing out of a rock slide.  It was about ten minutes after the lightning strike when I saw the first faint smoke.  I sized up the situation and decided that it was safe to stay and watch because the spot was contained by that rock slide; there wasn’t anything else combustible for another two hundred yards.  So, I watched.

It took the better part of an hour before the smoke became readily apparent.  It was another thirty minutes before I saw flames creeping up the sage brush.  Ten minutes later the fire had pretty much burnt itself out.

When building a campfire, it is important to follow the steps:

  •     Make sure that your intended fire is contained all around by something non-flammable such as rocks, bricks or a fire pit.
  •     In the middle of that protected area you first lay down tinder; the tinder must be completely dry material that readily catches flame like the inner bark from a paper birch.
  •     On top of the tinder place some kindling.  The kindling can be bunches of small branches, or you can split a dry piece of larger firewood down to say half-inch pieces. 
  •     I also like to have at least a couple of pieces of firewood, about the size of three or four pieces of kindling bunched together.
  •     At this point I like to start the fire, let the initial fuel burn down to the point where red-hot coals are forming at the base, and then carefully add larger and larger pieces of dry firewood in a pyramid shape.
  •     Once the larger pieces of wood are burning you just need to add enough wood to maintain the size of the fire that you desire.

It seems simple enough, but I recall a late October evening when it was obvious someone did not get the memo.

It was during my college years when we had a long weekend toward the end of October.  I headed up north to the National Forest campground at Boot Lake.  It was my plan to hunt grouse during the morning and bow hunt for deer in the evening.  I drove up to the campground and got there early.  I had my pick of sites as I was the only one there, so I picked a nice site right on the lake and busied myself pitching my tent and setting up camp.  It was a sunny warm day for so late in October, but I made sure that I had a good-sized woodpile and laid a fire in the fire pit because I knew it would get chilly as soon as the sun went down.

It was dark by the time I got back from bow hunting.  As I drove into the campground I noticed two things: all the sites along the lake were now occupied by other campers who had arrived while I was hunting; and, I noticed how dark the campground was – everyone was already in their camping trailers and RV’s.

I lit the gas stove and got supper cooking, and I lit my gas lantern for additional light.  As long as I had the matches out, I also started the campfire; it was burning nicely by the time I pulled up a chair by the flames and sat down to eat my supper.  After I finished eating and cleaning up the dishes, I stoked the fire and sat down for some serious contemplation.  I looked first one way and then back the other.  I shook my head.  I guess they were all in for a very long and dark night.

Then I heard a camper door squeak open in the next camp over.  I heard some rustling.  Then I heard a glug, glug, glug sound.  Then there was an audible WHOOSH as a fireball shot up about fifteen feet into the air.  My neighbor was trying to light his campfire with, what my family referred to a “Boy Scout Juice”, otherwise known as gasoline. 

I watched the flames from next door shrink and shrink and finally it went dark again.  More rustling noises, more glug noises; another WHOOSH and fireball.  This time I noticed that they had just dragged several large tree limbs and stuck their ends into the firepit.  No tinder, no kindling, no smaller pieces of wood first – just logs.  Not surprisingly, the flames dwindled and died a second time.  A third fireball was again followed by darkness.  Then, I heard more rustling, then I heard the trailer door squeak open and heard it slam shut.           

For most of us, building the fire of faith in our hearts is the same way. At baptism God lays the fire carefully in our hearts.  Then he waits patiently.  Sometimes, usually in the midst of crisis, we suddenly realize that it is too cold and too dark in our lives and we suddenly want that fire – NOW!  We beg for the WHOOSH.  We helplessly try to control the fire and the flames dwindle and extinguish.

But God knows how to build the flame of faith that endures.  The tinder is His spirit already dwelling in us.  The kindling is the desire he ignites in our hearts to know him better and love him more.  The sticks of deeper and deepening prayer catch the flame.  Then the large chunks of WORD and Eucharist and Sacraments sustain the flames that draw others near.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash