Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. 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 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.

The Pilot

The Pilot
The Pilot

Friday, November 8, 2013

Red Letter Days - A New Series


From the beginning Beyond the Campfire has concentrated on photography as was its intent, but I also wanted it to become a combination outdoor adventure / photography blog.  The adventure part has become the lesser of the two and somewhat in my defense for various reasons I just don’t get out as much as I used to.
As I have taken time away from the blogging world I’ve been able to reflect on seasons past, friends and special moments and began to realize that collectively I have garnered many Red-Letter days through the years. Some years ago before I understood what blogging was all about I built a website called ‘Oklahoma Backcountry’. It no longer exists, but I still have copies of the adventure stories I shared through its venue.
As I thought about how to proceed with Beyond the Campfire I realized there was a treasure trove of  red letter days many of them focused around friends some of whom are no longer with us. I am so glad I put into writing those stories for as I re-read through many of them I was taken back to possibly some of the best days I can remember.
So starting this month, I will be re-sharing those old stories along with new ones to try and balance the adventure portion of Beyond the Campfire against the photography aspect of the blog. A spattering of images, snap shots really, taken during those amazing days will be included. None of them warrant any kind of quality merit, but in their own way they are priceless keep sakes of those bygone days and serve to accent just how important they were.
Please share with me memories from the past as I begin this amazing discovery of renewal.
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Zippo Lighter Moments
It is a subtle noise, more of a clink and less of a clunk, but distinctive and recognizable well beyond what its simple action might otherwise dictate. A simple flicking of the shiny cover with an upward motion of the thumb activates the signature sound; clink, then a pause followed by a flick-zip that generates a stream of sparks to ignite the flame whose lighter fluid aroma drifts with the wind. 
 
I hadn’t heard the clink of a Zippo lighter for many years until recently, and when I did I immediately knew what it was. Upon its activation I was in a moment taken back to another time more years ago than I care to admit to. My mind jumped from scene to scene as the ghost reels of times past flickered across the faded screen stretched across my imagination. Each scene played out in perfect harmony as the sound of that old Zippo lighter stamped into existence dormant long-to-come moments waiting for a trigger to resurrect them back to life.
 
I can’t rightly say when I first heard a Zippo lighter sound but I can remember clearly the cold air and pipe tobacco aroma associated with the use of one. My old friend Ralph as he was accustomed to doing, would flick his lighter, fire it up, and light his pipe blowing short puffs of smoke until the bowl would glow crimson red. Then he would again clink it closed.  The sweet fragrance of the pipe tobacco would softly fill the air.  
I didn’t know it at the time but those obscure moments became set in my mind by the actions and sound of him using that old Zippo. If I recall correctly he inherited the lighter from his dad so it already had a long history to it and by default those moments became part of my history. He used the pipe and the Zippo just about every place he managed to find himself, but my memories are locked more onto the hunting and fishing adventures we shared together. You see Ralph was somewhat, maybe even considerably older than the rest of us, a mentor of sorts although he would never have admitted to it. In spite of his age we the younger had a hard time keeping up with him.  



It didn’t matter how cold it was, if there was a duck hunt to be had, he’d be there. Those were the most memorable Zippo moments. We would arrive at our destination and as we scurried around trying to get rigged, he would calmly repack his pipe, flick the lighter open and fire it off. I can hear it now as clearly as then…clink…zip...puff and puff, the blue smoke wafting in the winter pre-dawn air set aglow by star light. He did it so often we hardly paid attention to it…then. It was just part of what he did and we got used to it. 

Sharing a canoe with Ralph was a fine pleasure that all of us relished. His pipe and Zippo lighter were always there for every fishing trip. What greater joy could there be than to see the sky glow before daybreak, hear the whine of fishing line as it twirled toward a rendezvous with a summer morning bass, and hear his Zippo clink and the subtle puffing of a lit pipe. Everything seemed to fit perfectly in sync; time, place, emotion, and moment. Our times together in a canoe were the best of times and when we were able to combine that pastime with a camping trip, they became the better of times. A hypnotic campfire that spoke of times past, old adventure stories told and retold, hilarious and near disastrous at times brought us to joyous tears. Then without fanfare almost unheard in the background against the clutter of the evening chatter there would come that clink…followed by the scent of pipe tobacco. 
Sometimes he would be in the middle of telling a story when he’d light up. The clink became a pause and each pause added to the impact of the telling part. He’d hold the pipe in one hand and wave it with some kind of animated gesturing as he elaborated on his story. Sometimes he’d simply let the pipe hang from one side of his jaw and then he would talk through it. His stories would often run a long time, he could take a two minute story and turn it into a full length adventure, and inevitably his pipe would go out…then we’d hear another clink, another pause as he reignited the tobacco...then the story continued.
We enjoyed many rendezvous’ across years of building a reserve of memories that served us well. As Ralph aged he approached another rendezvous with life that collided with Multiple Myloma. In spite of his condition he continued to fish and get out as much as he could until he could no longer do so. His Zippo and pipe were there with him along the way, and when he passed he left behind a legacy of living that words can never fully define.  
What I understand now that I did not then, is that we need to have those Zippo Lighter moments for no other reason than to lock into place what it means to be a friend. Even though he was not actively trying to teach such admirable traits, he did manage to get the point across to us without even knowing it. Yet, Ralph was more than a friend, more than a mentor he was a maker of timeless memories and the clink of that old lighter became the stamp of approval that solidified the texture and flavor of those adventures.   
 
I harbor few regrets, but when I recently heard again the clink of a Zippo lighter, I realized that my life since Ralph left us has exhibited far too few of those moments. I do treasure the small number that were made and can only hope that a simple sound coming from a classic lighter will stir within me not only more self awareness but a greater desire to become a maker of timeless memories. And even though I do not smoke, I purchased a shiny new Zippo lighter today. On those melancholy days when my mind is set adrift and I forget why I enjoyed going on those adventures, I’ll flick the lid to hear that clink and use it as a reminder.
 
Keith
 

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