By: Gretchen Comer
There’s just something about sitting around a fire when autumn has settled in with its bright, color-filled days and crisp, star-filled nights. Wrapping my hands around a mug of hot apple cider and being mesmerized by the flickering flames are some of my favorite things. I love the sweet smell of wood smoke mingling with the woodsy perfume of fresh autumn. There’s something intrinsically beautiful about the constant, entrancing movement of ever-shifting firelight. Even as a child I had an innate attraction to fire and I see it in other children too. Starting a fire presents potential dangers and is exciting but taboo to a child. When you get to that special age of being “old enough”, fire creation becomes a rite-of-passage.
When I met my husband, I could count on one hand the number of fires I helped to create by that point in my life. A competent camper but never the fire starter I instead honed my skills at gathering sticks for kindling and balling up newspaper. As teenagers we were strangers to the mystical ways of primitive fire making. This meant that camping with someone who knew what they were doing was a necessity; people who were just too few and far between. I wanted to contribute but often had to be content to sit by and watch, usually male relatives or boyfriends, coax the flames to life. “Stand back honey; we’ll take care of the fire.”
Years of observation, many burnt fingers and at least a cord of wood-smoked clothing later I learned just how easy it was to smother a fire with too much wood. (Seriously? It’s firewood. How does it not burn?) Or how adding wet firewood to a fire was guaranteed to send out noxious, choking smoke clouds? Whoops. (I mean, who knew that not being able to see or breathe was considered a major social faux pas?) That was one of those educational experiences that you walk away from feeling a bit like a piece of jerky. It was my husband, who was brought up practicing the old ways of early settlers that made me see the light.
Learning how to build a primitive fire and persuade it into life is one of the most empowering skills this female has ever learned. I don’t mean drive to 7-Eleven and buy fire-starter logs and a lighter, or hit the “On” button on your gas fireplace, or saturate the charcoal in your grill with lighter fluid and light it. I mean: quartz rock striking steel, catching a spark and gently placing it in dry tinder, and getting the firewood you have collected to ignite and burn. It’s a delicate and sometimes time-consuming process that requires patience with deliberate steps to follow. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have twelve posts, six emails and two phone calls to respond to after all, they had to make the time. Fire-starting enables me to slow down and be more task-focused albeit meditative. When the flames catch I can momentarily revel in the reaffirming feeling that I could survive outdoors if I had to. It’s an exhilarating high-five-to-yourself kind of moment. ME MAKE FIRE!
Many survivalists will tell you that if you can make a fire when you find yourself in an emergency survival situation, you have increased your chances of survival by as much as 50%. Now you have potential for heat, protection, a cook fire and a way to purify water. Somewhere in our evolution and advancements in technology we have forgotten basic survival skills like how to create fire. It obviously meant more to our ancestors, their whole world revolved around fire. In addition to the obvious practical daily applications it provided a sense of place and of community and facilitated great advancements in how we lived and evolved. Like other activities that were a given part of childhood for many past generations, primitive fire building is a fading art. But, even today if you light a bonfire people are drawn to it like moths, eager to be part of it. It’s as if the collective attraction for fire still dwells within our cellular structure.
High volumes of people live in cities and places where it’s not essential to know how to build a fire; we simply hit a button and turn on our stoves, ovens, heat and lights. Increased population on the planet equals more demand on our electric grid equaling more power outages. Knowing how to build a fire is a practical, useful and empowering skill you will never forget. As a friend once said to me, “Knowing how to build a fire is a great party trick. Everybody loves a fire.” Learning this skill will enable you to feel more confident in situations that necessitate a fire and provide new and fun experiences for you and your family. And let’s face it— you can’t cozy up to a fireplace app (yes, they exist) or the crackling fire DVD that comes out every holiday season. There’s no comparison to real thing and it’s worth it, I promise.
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Come out and learn how to build a primitive fire and have time to sit and enjoy it along with other fun and practical unplugged tools to take home to impress your family and friends in our DIGITAL RECESS Retreat, October 21-23.
Gretchen Comer has been a fire- tender and a fire-starter as well as co-facilitator of fire circles and ceremonial fire events for individuals and groups for over sixteen years. She enjoys writing and fire building with her husband. She has been fascinated by fire as far back as she can remember.