Campfires - Outdoor Skills
Campfires - Outdoor Skills
HARDLY second in importance to a warm, dry camp, is the camp-fire. In point of fact, the warmth, dryness, and healthfulness of a forest camp are mainly dependant on the way the fire is managed and kept up. No asthmatic or consumptive patient ever regained health by dwelling in a close, damp tent.
I once camped for a week in a wall tent, with a Philadelphia party, and in cold weather. We had a little sheet iron fiend, called a camp-stove. When well fed with bark, knots and chips, it would get red hot, and, heaven knows, give out heat enough. By the time we were sound asleep, it would subside; and we would presently awaken with chattering teeth to kindle her up again, take a smoke and a nip, turn in for another nap—to awaken again half frozen. It was a poor substitute for the open camp and bright fire. An experience of fifty years convinces me that a large percentage of the benefit obtained by invalids from camp life is attributable to the open camp and well-managed camp-fire. And the latter is usually handled in a way that is too sad, too wasteful; in short, badly botched. For instance.
It happened in the summer of '81 that I was making a canoe trip in the Northern Wilderness; and as Raquette Lake is the largest and about the most interesting lake in the North Woods, I spent about a week paddling, fishing, etc. I made my headquarters at Ed. Bennett's woodland hostelry, " Under the Hemlocks." As the hotel was filled with men, women and crying children, bitten to agony by punkies and mosquitoes, I chose to spread my blanket in a wellmade bark shanty, which a sign-board in black and white said was the " Guides' Camp."
And this camp was a very popular institution. Here it was that every evening, when night had settled down on forest and lake, the guests of the hotel would gather to lounge on the bed of fresh balsam browse, chat, sing and enjoy the huge camp-fire.
No woodland hotel will long remain popular that does not keep up a bright, cheery, out-o'-door fire. And the fun of it—to an old woodsman—is in noting how like a lot of school children they all act about the fire. Ed. Bennett had a man, a North Woods trapper, in his employ, whose chief business was to furnish plenty of wood for the guides' camp, and start a good fire every evening by sundown. As it grew dark and the blaze shone high and bright, the guests would begin to straggle in; and every man, woman and child seemed to view it as a religious duty to pause by the fire, and add a stick or two, before passing Into camp. The wood was thrown on endwise, crosswise, or any way, so that it would burn, precisely as a crowd of boys make a bonfire on the village green. The object being, apparently, to get rid of the wood in the shortest possible time.
When the fire burnt low, toward midnight, the guests would saunter off to the hotel; and the guides, who had been waiting impatiently, would organize what was left of the fire, roll themselves in their blankets, and turn in. I suggested to the trapper that he and I make one fire as it should be, and maybe they would follow suit—which would save half the fuel, with a better fire. But he said, "No; they like to build bonfires, and 'Ed.' can stand the wood, because it is best to let them have their own way. Time seems to hang heavy on their hands —and they pay well." Summer boarders, tourists and sportsmen, are not the only men who know how to build a camp-fire all wrong.
Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.
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