Campfires — We Want Smore!

What is it about a fire that is so calming to we humans? I reaffirmed that this was true recently when I turned a long-stagnant item on my household to-do list into the most enjoyable time. Involving fire, of course.

Fire – that ancient thing that proved so crucial to human survival so many eons ago – has a special quality about it. We can all agree that a fire that gets out of control is a dangerous and destructive thing, but when used safely and responsibly (listen to me talk like a PSA) draws us in like nothing else.

Who has not gone house hunting and perked up whenever the word “fireplace” appears in the listing description? Our house has one (two, actually, but only one is set up for the actual burning of wood) and I can recall several occasions where we had a little impromptu party when our young family roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over the flames.

In more recent times the idea of an outdoor fire pit has become popular – and for good reason. Is there anything for bringing out a festive atmosphere than to gather around a fire? When my boys were young the campfire was the highlight of every camping trip with the scouts – just as it was when I was a boy so many years ago.

When one son was still in high school, he nagged and nagged for a fire pit. I finally relented and bought one of those outdoor fire bowls – the kind with the big stainless bowl and the screened lid so that the embers could safely be contained. I had to do a little research – my locale prohibits burning of leaves, but a recreational fire is OK so long as it is not in a place that will be a danger. I secretly relished the little loophole that (surely? probably?) permitted burning leaves when they were still attached to the brush I was allowed to burn.

The fire bowl was a good match for our property which contains quite a few trees. Which results in limbs on the ground at a slow and steady pace all through the year. Said young lad was always happy to put the fire bowl to use with the happy by-product for me of a vanishing brush pile.

The fire bowl got a little old, and the screened lid had become a lid-frame that contained absolutely nothing. Except the rust that covered it, anyway. Said young lad went away to school and eventually got his own place (with a fireplace, I should add) and things on the JP homestead languished – with a rusting fire bowl that went unused and piles of brush that got ever larger.

The brush piles got out of control for several reasons. The fire bowl was small enough that it was a real chore for any serious burning, with too little room for wood. The other problem was that some of the limbs were rather large, and I have reached the age where sweating over a bow saw is not as attractive to me as it once would have been. One problem was solved when I was given a small electric chain saw for Christmas. I have a difficult history with chain saws, pretty much always involving their gas engines and the problems that come from infrequent use.

The second problem was solved by a bright idea – There has been a pile of bricks that came from a planter that former owners of my stead demolished. What a great idea – laying the bricks out in a circle made for the most fab fire pit. Which resulted in a couple of recent sessions that involved Marianne, camp chairs, tiki torches, a bonfire and a bottle of wine. OK, there was a chainsaw involved for occasional fire-refueling, but even that was kind of fun.

Early April is a great time for sitting around an outdoor fire. The evening weather is still a bit crisp and the summer onslaught of bugs has not yet started. Which is an issue at my house, as it turns out that I married a human mosquito detector. If there is one of those pests within a mile it will find my betrothed and bite her until it passes out in a platelet-filled bliss. The situation has its benefits because we always go inside before I get any mosquito bites. Well, the situation has benefits for me anyway. For Marianne? Not so much.

The bug thing takes on some added weight this year because we are expecting a cicada party to begin in another few weeks. We had one of those seventeen years ago, and we don’t plan to be outside for this one any more than we have to. You have not lived until you have had a big cicada bumble into the space between your eye and your spectacles.

In any case, I am happy to report that everything at our recent fire sessions was perfect. Some stressful days were defused by some conversation around the mesmerizing flames, and all of the unsightly brush piles (that my fastidious neighbor has probably not been happy about) are now gone. The wine was good, too. I look forward to re-starting this tradition in the fall once the brush has replenished itself and the weather is right. Only I think hot dogs and marshmallows should be part of the plan next time.

21 thoughts on “Campfires — We Want Smore!

  1. A cicada between your eye and spectacle!! That sounds pretty dreadful! But I’m glad you’re enjoying the fire pit. We have one at our new house and I can’t wait to start making some use out of it soon

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    • The problem is that there are so many. If you can deter 80% of 100,000 cicadas you will still have 20,000. I have read that their numbers is their biological defense – they come in such numbers that predators cannot possibly eat them all.

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  2. Poor Marianne! I can just picture those mosquitoes passed out in their platelet-filled bliss. What a description! I had not thought to have a fire outside this early in the season, but it’s a good idea, especially if it snows next week. I haven’t yet hauled the summer furniture out of the shed, including the firebowl with screen, still practically new…now that I don’t have as many trees I have to wait for a good windstorm for kindling.

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  3. Poor Marianne – a magnet for mosquitoes. She must have very sweet blood. I have a friend like that and she loves to garden and has extensive garden areas. She’ll spray and spritz various potions and then in the Summer months, will sweat the protective covering off and still come in all bitten up – but she persists. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why she spends the time/money in the garden as her place is on the edge of a woods and the deer drift in/out of her yard and eat 90% of her plants – they especially love gobbling up the hostas. I’m dreading the cicadas too. I can remember going out in the garden and seeing the bodies (or discarded shells – ugh) clinging to rosebushes. I never knew if they got snagged on the thorns or just liked the color red. Not looking forward to the invasion at all and the noise really gets to you after a while and I like being outdoors.

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  4. Sounds delightful, JP.

    Poor Marianne: no mosquito control available?

    Yes; we’re all bracing for the cicadas. I remember an outdoor graduation years back that sorely tried my Schweitzeresque instincts to let nature be. Except they’re pretty tough and adept at their work.

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    • I have vivid memories of our last cicada go-around seventeen years ago. I am not looking forward to another, but it will come whether I’m ready or not. It was odd last time, my neighborhood was hit hard with them, but you could go a mile or two away and there were hardly any. It will be interesting to see if they migrated or if they liked our area enough to renew the lease for another seventeen years.

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