You’ll never make it differently.
And yet, even the staunchest adherents to one particular method know in the deep part of their hearts – the parts that spark to life at the first whiff of woodsmoke – that the way the fire is built is not important. What’s important about the campfire is its gravity. The way it pulls us toward it, spinning together experiences that will live on long after the coals have gone out.
You remember how you were taught to avoid poison ivy while gathering kindling in the underbrush. The lesson on how to strike a match – away from yourself, safely – and how that led to another lesson whittling on the leftover sticks. You remember the bonfires before the big game. The burnt marshmallows and moving to get out of the way of the wafting smoke. You remember the fire pit on the porch and the walleye breaking the still surface of the lake. The stars coming out.
This is what we remember: The campfires when we were kids. Giving that experience to our own kids. Our grandkids. Old friends, and the new friends we met at the next campsite over. Fire is our most important tool. It’s essential for cooking, for lighting our way, for protecting us from whatever might lurk in the shadows beyond this little clearing where we make our temporary home. It’s a call to gather and share in community.
We burn fuel in order to build connections. Passing around a pot of soup. Telling ghost stories. Sharing secrets and dreams. Regrets and hopes. Building memories as we stack the kindling, light the match, and blow life into a pile of fallen branches.
And when we step outside the next morning and see those logs reduced to gray powder, and we kneel, hold a hand out, and feel the warmth rising off the banked coals – when we toss another log on and sit in the cool morning fog watching the fire come back to life, listening to the forest wake up, to the kids climbing out of their beds – that’s when you realize there is no right way to build a fire.
The simple act itself is enough.