Reflecting Camp Fire Heat - Outdoor Skills
Reflecting Camp Fire Heat - Outdoor Skills
It was in the "dark days before Christmas" that a party of four started from W., bound for a camp on Second Fork, in the deepest part of the wilderness that lies between Wellsboro and the Block House. The party consisted of Sile J., Old Al., Eli J. and the writer. The two first were gray-haired men, the others past thirty; all the same, they called us "the boys." The weather was not inviting, and there was small danger of our camp being invaded by summer outers or tenderfeet. It cost twelve miles of hard travel to reach that camp; and, though we started at daylight, it was past noon when we arrived. The first seven miles could be made on wheels, the balance by hard tramping. The road was execrable; no one cared to ride; but it was necessary to have our loads carried as far as possible. The clearings looked dreary enough, and the woods forbidding to a degree, but our old camp was the picture of desolation. There was six inches of damp snow on the leafless brush roof, the blackened brands of our last fire were sticking their charred ends out of the snow, the hemlocks were bending sadly under their loads of wet snow, and the entire surroundings had a cold, cheerless, slushy look, very little like the ideal hunter's camp. We placed our knapsacks in the shanty, Eli got out his nail hatchet, I drew my little pocket-) axe, and we proceeded to start a fire, while the two older men went up stream a few rods to unearth a full-grown axe and a bottle of old rye, which they had cached under a log three months before. They never fooled with pocket-axes.
They were gone so long that we sauntered up the bank, thinking it might be the rye that detained them. We found them with their coats off, working like beavers, each with a stout, sharpened stick. There had been an October freshet, and a flood-jam at the bend had sent the mad stream over its banks, washing the log out of position and piling a gravel bar two feet deep over the spot where the axe and flask should have been. About the only thing left to do was to cut a couple of stout sticks, organize a mining company, limited, and go in; which they did. Sile was drifting into the side of the sandbar savagely, trying to strike the axe-helve, and old Al. was sinking numberless miniature shafts from the surface in a vain attempt to strike whisky. The company failed in about half an hour. Sile resumed his coat, and sat down on a log—which was one of his best holds, by the way. He looked at Al.; Al. looked at him; then both looked at us, and Sile remarked that, if one of the boys wanted to go out to the clearings and "borry" an axe, and come back in the morning, he thought the others could pick upwood enough to tough it out one night. Of course nobody could stay in an open winter camp without an axeIt was my time to come to the front. I said: "You two just go at the camp; clean the snow off and slick up the inside. Put my shelter-cloth with Eli's, and cover the roof with them; and if you don't have just as good a fire to-night as you ever had, you can tie me to a beech and leave me there. Come on, Eli." And Eli did come on. Aftd this is how we did it: We first felled a thrifty butternut tree ten inches in diameter, cut off three lengths of five feet each, and carried them to camp. These were the back logs. Two stout stakes were driven at the back of the fire, and the logs, on top of each other, were laid firmly against the stakes. The latter were slanted a little back, and the largest log placed at bottom, the smallest on top, to prevent tipping forward. A couple of short, thick sticks, were laid with the ends against the bottom log by way of fire dogs; a fore stick, five feet long and five inches in diameter; a well built pyramid of bark, knots and small logs completed the campfire, which sent a pleasant glow of warmth and heat to the furthest corner of the shanty. For "nightwood," we cut a dozen birch and ash poles from four to six inches across, trimmed them to the tips, and dragged them to camp. Then we denuded a dry hemlock of its bark by aid of ten-foot poles, flattened at one end, and packed the bark to camp. We had a bright, cheery fire from the early evening until morning, and four tired hunters never slept more soundly.
We staid in that camp a week; and, though the weather was rough and cold, the little pocket-axes kept us well in firewood. We selected butternut for back logs, because, when green, it burns very slowly and lasts a long time. And we dragged our smaller wood to camp in lengths of twenty to thirty feet, because it was easier to lay them on the fire and "nigger" them in two than to cut them shorter with light hatchets. With a heavy axe, we should have cut them to lengths of five or six feet.
Our luck, I may mention, was good—as good as we desired. Not that four smallish deer are anything to brag of for a week's hunt by four men and two dogs. I have known a pot-hunter to kill nine in a single day. But we had enough.
As it was, we were obliged to "double trip it" in order to get our deer and duffle down to "Babb's." And we gave away more than half our venison. For the rest, the illustrations show the camp-fire—all but the fire—as it should be made.
Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.
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