Archive for August, 2022

Aug 27 2022

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Tending a Campfire

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Earlier this week, I went into the woods overnight just to get away from my work and chill out. I walked up a logging road winding into the Green Mountains, cut across an overgrown meadow, then bushwhacked along a crystal clear stream until I found a beautiful spot to camp.

Setting up my tent and making myself right at home didn’t take long, but the woods were wet from rain the day before, so it took a while to strip off the bark on the wood I gathered. Wood without its bark dries out fast and burns well. After gathering plenty of it, I ate lunch, did a little naturalizing, and wrote in my field journal before taking a long nap. Backwoods adventure? No, more like seriously goofing off.

That evening I placed some birch bark in the middle of the campfire ring I had created, built a small tipi of tiny sticks over it, then struck a match. Ten minutes later I had a good fire going. Another ten minutes after that I had water boiled up in my handy little one-quart pot. I kept the fire going as I drank hot tea with my dinner. I continued tending the fire long after its usefulness.

The sun disappeared behind a nearby ridge. Daylight faded away. The campfire slowly became the center of my universe. I fed sticks into it, carefully placing them to maximize the burn. My thoughts wandered. The water in the nearby stream rushed over rocks incessantly. The fire snapped and crackled, occasionally kicking out a blue flame. It mesmerized me as darkness closed in. I lost track of time.

Late in the evening I let the campfire slowly die out, becoming embers. Then I hit it hard with several pots of water from the brook before going to bed. In the morning I fired it up again, letting it die out quickly after breakfast. Then I dismantled the campfire, tossing the stones in the brook and burying a couple handfuls of cold ashes. No trace of it remained when I hiked away.

Pity the poor souls in the distant or perhaps not-too-distant future who will be unable to build a campfire anywhere. You can’t buy the kind of solace a campfire provides. It is a good reason to go in the woods, venturing off-trail, if you ask me.

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Aug 11 2022

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The Shock of Late Summer

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Yesterday I noticed the white wood asters in bloom in my back yard and felt the shock of late summer. Is it really that time of year already? I have just gotten used to running around barefoot, in a t-shirt and shorts. It seems like the warm season idle just began.

Judy and I sat in Taylor Park yesterday, listening to a concert as the sun sank slowly in the west. The air temperature was a perfect 70 degrees and flowers bloomed in the small garden before us while children scurried about. A few hours before that I had lounged in the shade on my patio, feeding a resident chipmunk and watching hummingbirds at the feeders while I read a book. At the start of each day, I open up the house, allowing a gentle summer breeze to waft through our living room. And every day is a good day – even when temps shoot into the 90s, even when it rains. Summertime is a prolonged dream.

Strawberries, a long hike through the shady forest, a dip in a mountain stream, corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes, birdsongs all day long, cotton ball clouds in a blue sky, wildflowers and a leafy green everywhere –– the simple joys of this season just keep coming. Then suddenly there are wood asters, goldenrod, and the shelves of stores are stocked with back-to-school supplies.

Yes, I have noticed the subtle shortening of daylight hours but have chosen to ignore it. Yes, I’m well aware that autumn has its own delights, but I’m not ready to let go of summer just yet. I am still in a summertime frame of mind. And the remaining month of it always feels more precious than the previous two.

The days slip by, the months, the years… I’m at that point in my life where life itself feels precious. I am shocked by the passage of time. Was the last summer camp with our grandkids really five years ago? Has it actually been over a decade since my hike through the 100-Mile Wilderness? Have 40 years gone by since my arrival in Vermont? This all comes as a surprise to me.

Even the long days of summer aren’t long enough. Life is short. There’s no time to lose.

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