Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise
Prairie Sunrise

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Campfires I Have Known - Part2

Here is Part two of a story taken from the archives of stories I've written over the years.  I suppose it fits well into the category of "Beyond the Campfire".  

I'll never forget the soggy fire my long time friend Rocky and I attempted to nurse into life back in our college days.  We thought we knew all there was to know about the outdoors...we didn't. We were home for the summer and apparently had nothing else better to do, so we put together a spur-of-the-moment trout fishing trip over to the Illinois River below Tenkiller Dam not far from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where we were attending college.  What we lacked in actual experience we made up in enthusiasm.  We piled close to three tons of camping gear...2.9 tons of which we didn't need...into the back of his old VW he had converted into a dune buggy.  Dune buggies were pretty cool back then.  Of the 0.1 tons of gear we did need, almost none of it was food...we were going to be real pioneers and live off the land by catching trout and cooking them over a campfire.  We actually did catch some fish, but mother nature did not cooperate with us and a steady rain fell the entire trip.  We soon discovered that the old Coleman stove we brought along no longer worked...or more than likely we didn't know how to make it work.  So...we set about building a campfire...with now very soggy wood.

About all we could accomplish to that effect was a smoldering mass of wet smoke which did little to warm our cold hands much less provide enough heat to cook a fish.  Our filleting skills were also somewhat lacking and the soggy mixture of cornmeal and assorted fish parts fell well short of winning any gourmet cooking awards.  Even so, at least it kept us from starving...but just barely.  Had some other campers not taken pitty on us and loaned us a working Coleman stove, we certainly would have had a most memorable outing.  As it turned out...we still get a big chuckle about that experience even today.  Oddly was the campfire...or maybe the lack there of...that helped to create that memory.

Our skills at building campfires improved over the years...but we still had our share of shriveled tennis shoes, holes burned into tent fabric, and choking lungs filled with smoke.  One of the first float trips we made on the Buffalo River in northwestern Arkansas could be classified as the "no sleep float trip from hell."  One of our troop...who had been invited by one of our regulars...had without a doubt the worst case of snoring I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing.  Now I've heard some pretty good snoring over the years...even contribute my own style to this serenade...but, I've never heard such vile noises come out of a sleeping person ever...I never knew such noises could come out of a sleeping person.  Now, it's not all that unusual for someone to snore a bit when you get four to six guys together on a camping's somewhat expected and no one seems to be bothered by it...too much.  But, on this single occasion the snoring exploits of our guest not only kept all of us awake...but we had campers thirty yards away complain the next morning about the hideous and foul noises.  Cotton in the ears...nothing could muffle the thunderous rumble. Only two people got any sleep that 3-day weekend...the culprit...and Ralph who was able to disconnect his hearing aid and slept in silent bliss each night.  The rest of us suffered unmercifully.

I'll never forget the puffy eyed look of our crew as we all stood around the campfire each morning.  Never had coffee smelled so good nor offered more relief than on those mornings..that was the most memorable campfire we've ever had if not the most miserable.  Oddly enough, our guest turned out to be one fine camp when meal time came...all was temporarily forgiven.

The Buffalo River has been the focal point of many such campfires creating an array of unique evenings and images of smoke drifting across the campsites on cold mornings.  The aroma of coffee brewing and bacon sizzling on an open fire becomes an historical point of reference for each of those adventures.  Who could forget the sound and fragrance of freshly caught fish frying over a hot bed of coals as evening approaches...or the sound of the whip-o-will as smoke from the fire drifts low over the camp.  One of my favorite things to do after a campfire meal is to sit back and look up at the stars which are unfiltered by city lights and hear the crackle and feel the heat radiating from the hot coals.  These are memories that can only be experienced around a campfire.  When the stars come out...lost in another world...there is something magical about the fire.  They bring comfort...a sense of home yet a feeling of distance...and generates an enduring legacy that
remains vivid well after the amber coals have cooled.

Countless stories of embellished adventures we have told over the years while sitting around the campfire...hunting and fishing adventures...and more often than not...mis-adventures are recounted again and again.  It's one of the best uses of a campfire...they just seem to go together.

In more recent times I constructed a campfire area on the backside of our yard.  We live in the country and our yard is a long and skinny yard so the fire pit is situated a good hundred yards from the house.  We're surrounded by cornfields and wooded areas.  On occasion we venture out there and sit in the swing that I built and watch the fire run through its life cycle.  I enjoy adding logs to the fire and watch it flare up.  On those cool fall or spring's quite relaxing to sit out there and just talk about this and that and listen to the coyotes yipping and yelpping at dusk. My wife Kris and I certainly enjoy sharing those moments.

Wilderness may disappear in time...I pray that never happens...but the priceless images of those campfires will never be lost. I am certainly fortunate to have visited such moments...I plan on visiting many more.

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