D and I were discussing previous essays I'd written and how they were lost in the big computer crash of 2007 (when I (I really mean D) installed some operating system other than Windows on my perfectly good Windows box. Crash and everything - I mean EVERYTHING - was gone. Including all the essays I'd written. But this one was published in my hometown newspaper and I found it there this morning. Since I wrote it, I feel it's OK to post it here.
Building Campfires and Memories
Catching frostbite wasn’t what I had in mind when I told my brother I’d be thrilled to go camping with him and his family. Instead I had visions of warm days spent lazing about in the sun and pleasant nights spent roasting marshmallows by the campfire. After all we were going to be camping in sunny southern California.
Any ideas of sunbathing were quickly dismissed. The ferocity of the winds whipping through the mountains took us by surprise. Building a campfire was out of the question as it would surely set the forest on fire with uncontrolled showers of sparks. With no fire to stave off the cold and provide entertainment bedtime came early that first night. I dreamed of a nice warm bed only to wake to the cold hard ground I had managed to roll off of the air mattress sometime during the night. “Why did I ever say I’d come camping?” I grumbled to myself.
Crawling out of the tent I welcomed the now moderate breezes and sunshine promising a warmer day. We piled into the car and played tourist for several hours exploring nearby Santa Barbara All the irritation caused the cold wet night before disappeared as I saw the beauty all about me. All too soon it was time to ascend the mountains to the campground and a sense of dread overcame me. Would it be windy and cold again?
As soon as we arrived at the campsite, I quickly changed back into slacks before my legs had a chance to turn blue from the frigid air The wind was still only moderate breeze and my brother thought he could risk building a fire. I sat huddled against the breezes sipping a steaming cup of cocoa and watching my brother and his oldest son build the much needed campfire. My thoughts ricocheted between “I’m not going to last another night out here” and “I’m so glad I came. I wonder if I could live out here.”
“Easy,” my brother quietly cautioned his son. “ I just sharpened the blade.” Mickey gingerly accepted the hatchet from his dad and began splitting the starter pieces for the camp fire as Matt calmly gave him pointers. Suddenly I was no longer in the Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara but had been swept back 30 years and 3000 miles to the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina.
“Easy,” cautioned my dad as my oldest brother began chopping the kindling for that nights fire. “Try using two hands on the hatchet” my dad coached Matt. With fierce determination. Matt learned the technique and produced several pieces of kindling without losing any fingers to the hatchet’s sharp blade. A few moments later my dad showed Matt how to pile the kindling just so and with one match light the fire.
The wind gusted and the fire snapped sending sparks floating in the air and breaking me from my reverie. I was back in the cold mountains of California and Mickey won the struggle with the kindling as he lit the wood shavings that had been piled just so. I realized I was thrilled to be camping with my brother and his family. Knowing my brother honored my dad by passing on lessons from our childhood to his sons filled me with a sense of peace and wellbeing. In these days where families are torn apart not by war but by distance, it was comforting to learn my family will stay close by passing on childhood memories and lessons from one generation to the next.