Overnight Fire - Outdoor Skills
Overnight Fire - Outdoor Skills
When I first came to Northern Pennsylvania, thirty-five years ago, I found game fairly abundant; and, as I wanted to learn the country where deer most abounded, I naturally cottoned to the local hunters. Good fellows enough, and conceited, as all local hunters and anglers are apt to be. Strong, good hunters and axe-men, to the manor born, and prone to look on any outsider as a tenderfoot. Their mode of building camp-fires was a constant vexation to me. They made it a point to always have a heavy sharp axe in camp, and toward night some sturdy chopper would cut eight or ten logs as heavy as the whole party could lug to camp with hand-spikes. The size of the logs was proportioned to the muscular force in camp. If there was a party of six or eight, the logs would be twice as heavy as when we were three or four. Just at dark, there would be a log heap built in front of the camp, well chinked with bark, knots and small sticks; and, for the next two hours, one could hardly get at the fire to light a pipe. But, the fire was sure though slow. By 10 P. M. it would work its way to the front, and the camp would be warm and light. The party would turn in, and deep sleep would fall on a lot of tired hunters—for two or three hours. By which time some fellow near the middle was sure to throw his blanket off with a spiteful jerk, and dash out of camp with, "Holy Moses! I can't stand this; it's an oven."
Another Snorer (partially waking). — "N-r-r-r-m, gu-r-r-r, ugh. Can't you—deaden—fire—a little?"
First Speaker.—"Deaden h—. If you want the fire deadened, get up and help throw off some of these logs."
Another (in coldest corner of shanty).—"Whats 'er matter—with a-you fellows? Better dig out—an' cool off in the snow. Shanty's comfor'ble enough."
His minority report goes unheeded. The camp is roasted out. Strong hands and hand-spikes pry a couple of glowing logs from the front and replace them with two cold, green logs; the camp cools off, and the party takes to blankets once more—to turn out again at 5 A. M., and inaugurate breakfast. The fire is not in favorable shape for culinary operations, the heat is mainly on the back side, just where it isn't wanted. The few places level enough to set a pot or pan are too hot; and, in short, where there is any fire, there is too much. One man sees, with intense disgust, the nozzle of his coffee-pot drop into the fire. He makes a rash grab to save his coffee, and gets away—with the handle, which hangs on just enough to upset the pot.
"Old Al.," who is frying a slice of pork over a bed of coals that would melt a gun barrel, starts a horse laugh, that is cut short by a blue flash and an explosion of pork fat, which nearly blinds him. And the writer, taking in these mishaps in the very spirit of fun and frolic, is suddenly sobered and silenced by seeing his venison steak drop from the end of the "frizzling stick," and disappear between two glowing logs. The party manages, however, to get off on the hunt at daylight, with full stomachs; and perhaps the hearty fun and laughter more than compensate for these little mishaps.
This is digression. But, I am led to it by the recollection of many nights spent in camps and around camp-fires, pretty much as described above. I can smile to-day at the remembrance of the calm, superior way in which the old hunters of that day would look down on me, as from the upper branches of a tall hemlock, when I ventured to suggest that a better fire could be made with half the fuel and less than half the labor. They would kindly remark, "Oh, you are a Boston boy. You are used to paying $2.oo a cord for wood. We have no call to save wood here. We can afford to burn it by the acre." Which was more true than logical. Most of these men had commenced life with a stern declaration of war against the forest; and, although the men usually won at last, the battle was a long and hard one. Small wonder that they came to look upon a forest tree as a natural enemy. The camp-fire question came to a crisis, however, with two or three of these old settlers. And, as the story well illustrates my point, I will venture to tell it.
Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.
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