The humble campfire, associated with cowboys and cattle drives, can still play an important role in our lives. I learned the art of building a campfire in my days as a Boy Scout — a skill that has served me well through the years on many of my outdoor adventures. On a recent cold-weather solo camping trip to Palmetto State Park, I set up my tent and then turned my attention to the important business of preparing my campfire.
Starting with tinder and twigs, I progressively added the bigger stuff and finally topped everything off with the split logs I had brought with me. Of course, no fuel other than a match and tinder to start my fire. That’s the rule. But, when conditions are dry and you follow a tried and true fire-starting method it’s not hard to get a fire started with a match or two.
I started my campfire just before sunset. A couple of matches and the flames started to peek out from my tinder bundle deep inside my teepee of firewood. Within minutes the fire was blazing. There is just something really inviting and comforting about campfires, especially on cold nights.
As I sat and watched the flames dancing around the logs I thought about Chuck Noland, the character that Tom Hanks played in Castaway. When Chuck finally succeeded in building a fire he cried out, “Aha. Look what I’ve created. I have made fire.” Ok, I know it’s a cheesy movie line but everything changed for Chuck when he succeeded in building a campfire.
I watched the soft glow of another campfire in the distance and could hear the muffled tones of conversation. Four friends were camping out and stayed up most of the night talking around their campfire. Reflecting on all of this led me to conclude that campfires are important because they bring people together and inevitably open them up to share their own stories.
I recently read about a lady who spent several weeks with a remote tribe. She chronicled conversations during the day and then at night around the campfire. She concluded that it was the evening campfire conversations that were the most important because that’s when the people sang songs and shared defining stories about their culture in the hearing of their children.
I think that we lost something important when the humble campfire was replaced by technology. Families and neighbors no longer gather around campfires in the evenings. Instead many families go their separate ways in the evenings, each to their respective televisions or computers or smart phones or whatever — substitutes for campfires, stuff that robs us of opportunities to have conversations and share the stories that shape the next generation.
We need more campfires — opportunities to experience the warmth and tranquility they foster. We should gather together more often to share our stories in the hearing of our children, stories that will make them smile and wonder and dream and ask questions. Perhaps it’s time to consider how to revive the humble campfire in our high-tech world. It may just be the very thing we need in order to do a better job of inspiring, shaping, and passing along our values to the next generation.