Fire is a great thing! It provides (but is not limited to providing) both heat and light; and for the hiker, camper or adventurer this can result in a big moral boost. It can help you purify water for drinking and cook meats for eating, and let’s not forget about s’mores: they wouldn’t exist without fire and that would be terrible!
Some of my favorite memories of growing up were spent around fire, and some of the worst decisions that I’ve made were related to fire. It is a powerful tool that used correctly can save your life or used irresponsibly can take lives.
I am no stranger to bonfires or campfires, or even to building and maintaining a fire. But in my experiences the tools for making fire were always at hand and easy to use. We always had plenty of matches to start a flame, plenty of old funny pages to help as kindling, and bundles of store bought hard woods to burn hot and long.
This time it was different! I had some matches (some cheap ones stored in a waterproof container that I bought at Walmart). And I brought a cotton balls covered in Vaseline to help get the fire going. The method that I used to make these fire starters was based on an inferior method to the one below. The method below seems like it would soak the cotton balls far better than the way that I did it, but it still worked well enough.
So I had matches and I had cotton balls covered in Vaseline, but what I didn’t have was precut, pre-dried and pre-packaged wood for burning. The area where we built the fire had plenty of downed trees ready for burning, but the many inches of rain that fell the previous week soaked everything around and made it very hard to get anything going. All the wood was waterlogged. Frustrating. Seems like I didn’t plan that too well.
I have heard people use words like “nursing” to describe what it means to build a fire, and I couldn’t imagine a better word. I have two kids and I know the effort and attention that has to be paid to them to make sure that they succeed. Like raising children, building a fire was far more effort than I thought it would be.
Our problem was mainly preparation. Like most men, we got excited and jumped right in, but we weren’t prepared for the difficulty involved. We did not prepare wood ahead of time, so we scrambled constantly to find and cut branches and logs. We thought, at first, that starting the fire was going to be hard. It was not. Especially with the cotton balls that I brought (they only needed a single spark to set them ablaze). The hard part was nursing the fire to maturity. Breathing into it oxygen and feeding it fuel, it took nearly 20 minutes of intense work to get it to the point that we could enjoy it.
Franticly gathering, cutting, organizing and adding the wood to the fire was a lot of work. But it was well worth it! It kept us warm built our spirits and convinced us that next time, we would do it much better.
This is how I felt…
Cotton Balls and Vaseline…