Campfires

I sat by the fire tonight, reflecting. I’ve always looked at a fire as the release of the summer’s sun, contained in the wood from all those years go. I’ve sat by many fires over most of my life. I spent my summers on the East End of Long Island, on a piece of property my grandfather purchased about 1947. My Father’s best man, Bob Hartwell bought a piece of property on the North Shore of the Lower Fork of the East End, in a place called Noyac. He built a house carved out of the oak forest mantling the hills of the South Fork. He cleared the land, and as a result, he and his children, my unofficial cousins, became masters of woodcraft. Camp fires were a common occurrence, both out of necessity and pleasure.

I remember my ‘Aunt’ Kathy stopping her son, Chet, my ‘cousin’, and me from making a fire that was constructed out of logs piled about four feet high. We burned all the wood, but not all at once. A disappointment, but a successful fire, none the less. I’ve always looked at the heat and the light from a fire as a re-enjoyment of a summer where I wasn’t aware of the warmth of summer days that the wood stored.

Camp fires became for me a window into the past. All that stored energy, the light, the heat, the warm summer sun, the pleasant breezes of summer, the languid days of my youth without care or worry, all released again in some future day to be enjoyed. A piece of the summer to be experienced again. As I sat at the fire this evening, I tried to balance the future and present against the past, and past campfires came to mind.

There was a camp fire during the winter when I was in the Boy Scouts. We camped someplace, possibly for the day, at some location in NYC when it was really cold and snowy. It was sometime in the very early ’60’s. I remember that I melted the soles of my shoes, my daily go to school, only pair of shoes I owned, shoes. I didn’t tell my mother or father. I was one of five, money, in retrospect, was tight, and I dared not make that admission. The shoes were never the same again, and I was glad to outgrow them. I never wore shoes out. I always had to wear them out. It takes quite a bit to wear a shoe out, especially in the 1960’s.

I remembered the fireplace fire when I was in High School and the Senior Class went on an outing for the day and became stuck at Esopus NY, due to an unexpected snowstorm. It was a co-ed trip, so everyone was there with their boyfriend or girlfriend. I was dating a wonderful girl, Patricia Lukas, and after helping turn on the electricity and water to the building we took shelter in, someone made a fire and Pat and I snuggled on a couch and for the first time, enjoyed the warmth and peace of being close to someone you cared for very much, in front of a fire. It was High School in the 60’s with plenty of supervision, but it tapped into an emotion I never experienced before. Safe, warm, comfortable and loved, in front of a fire.

I crisply remember a fire in West Virginia when I first had the RV. Louie and I were on our way to Arkansas to see the late foliage when we had mechanical troubles, and changed the trip. We went to West Virginia and stayed at the campground the last night it was open. I was closing the next day, for the season. I made a fire. Louise heard what she thought was a kid in the next campground making a noise like a coyote. She, being the goof that she was, responded and made a coyote yell. The response was perfect, because it was a coyote, close by, and she looked at me and said “What was that?”. I responded “A Coyote”. Never was a woman more intent on getting away from a fire and back to the safety of a RV. It was a glorious fire, but mostly alone.

So, looking into the fire this evening, having a cigar and a sip of whiskey, there was a mix of the past and wonder about the future. I thought fondly of my Great Uncle Jack, my godfather, my grandmothers brother, and his fondness for a good cigar, and wondered if my taste was simply genetic, and whether the New York City guy ever sit by a campfire and enjoyed one of his favorite cigars. I thought that a good fire gives a window into the past, and realized that I’m old enough to have lived through all those summers, and the sun and the rain, that made the wood that was giving up all the energy it stored those years ago.

I tried to divine what the future would hold while I stared into the flames, the legacy of summer sun, and realized that a good fire is a mix of the here and now, and the past, and cannot help you divine what lies in the future. It’s not in the nature of a campfire. I remember many the campfires that I’ve sat before with my wife and family, and friends. They all are memorable, but do not belong to the future. The fire is a release of what was stored in the past. Sitting before a fire is to remember the past and contemplate what you can make of the future, but provides no insight into what might come. It’s a thing made to enjoy.

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