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How to Campfire
Applied technique only gets a person so far — tending a campfire is above all a spiritual endeavor.
First, you will need to find a suitable place to light a fire — a pre-established fire ring.
I got one at Home Depot that sits on our back patio all the time.
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Next, you’ll collect fuel to burn, including starter and kindling. Make sure the fuel is properly sized to your fire ring. My go-to firewood collection spot is Vons down the road from my house, and Lightning Nuggets are the best fire starters I’ve come across. You can get a 12 pack at [redacted popular outdoor co-op gear store] for $3.95, or 35 cents per fire.
Once you have the fuel, you’ll arrange the firewood.There are many schools of thought here: Swedish fire logs, classic teepees, the Dakota Fire Hole, log cabins, and lean to’s, to name a few. I tend toward a leaning log cabin system.
Technique is vital to the foundations of fire building, but it takes observation to realize that every fire is dynamic and alive in its own way. It takes attention to discover that, like every dynamic being, fire desires dynamic care.
Tending a campfire is above all a spiritual endeavor—applied technique only gets a person so far. Everything after ignition is more dance than formula, a conversation led by combustion and fed by breath, fuel, and care.
Fires tell you when they’re happy. At first with their output of light, heat, and smoke. Later on by their sounds, colors, shapes, and pace.
When you listen, you notice the changing tempo of snaps and pops, the slow crescendo of flame and the shimmering movements of smoke and light. When you’ve watched enough fires from birth to death, you realize a fire is alive with magic and tells a story of growth and consumption, of giving and receiving, before fading into memory.
Eventually, you recognize a fire’s song by rhythm and instinct. They speak the swift deep ferocious growl of wildfires as well as the slow crackling of an old friend’s laugh.
We know campfires are powerful — we’ve named everything from persuasive dating techniques to entrepreneurial marketing strategies after them. The Campfire Effect, we call it, though we hardly scratch the surface.
Campfires are a constant reminder of the permanent state of change we find ourselves swimming in. Look closely and find that no two flames are alike, no two pops or crackles identical. The life work of trees who drew carbon and minerals from the air and earth for decades is undone in a matter of minutes.
When sitting around something so representative of the nature of all things, conversation among humans naturally deepens and slows. We see a reflection of our own destiny in the flames — that inevitable grand sum of all our efforts and doings.
And yet we are held by the warmth, and we are sustained by the light, and we laugh, and drink, and roast marshmallows, and sing songs, and retell stories, and gaze silently into the embers, and wonder at the immense chaotic beauty of it all, and we are ultimately comforted and drawn together by the song and dance of transformation.
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure to douse your fire before you go to bed. Even in landscapes without much fuel, an unexpected gust of wind can send sparks and embers flying.
It’s best not to take chances.