Today is Thursday, March 23, 2017

Monkey face fires

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They talk to you.

They leave you with memories and they create memories and, absolutely, they talk to you.

Campfires. In over six decades of staring into them, I have a compilation of the great ones.

Great, meaning GREAT, not big although, assuredly, some of them were. Honestly, I can build any type of fire I need or want, given the right wood.

Good campfires do not require size. There is nothing more thought producing or memory etching of a big fire over a smaller one. I suppose the main ingredients are the wood from which it is built and the company gathered about.

But even that isn't quite true. Company around a campfire is a desirable ingredient but not necessarily mandatory. Campfires themselves are company and have given comfort on many a cold, or maybe not so cold, but potentially lonely night.

Ah, but the wood. Scarce a woodsman has grunted with the exertion of lacing his boots, that doesn't have an opinion about what wood to use for a top notch fire. Here again, one must consider the goal of the fire builder.

Is it for cooking, drying something, giving light and warmth or just for comfort? A cooking fire must burn with nice, even coals. A good, dry hardwood is recommended. Fire to dry clothes or wet boots or provide light and warmth must be composed of not only coals but nice flames. A fire for comfort requires the most thought.

Pine knots. Some folks in certain areas refer to the as faggots -- as in glowing faggots. (No remarks, please. This is the truth and I mean no slur of any kind.) Coniferous wood, such as pine, cedar, juniper-maybe juniper isn't a conifer-anyway, that sort of wood produces what I call monkey faces and speaks a very nice language.

These resinous knots, glow and twinkle and change shape and they resemble monkey faces...at least to me, they do. You see what you like. No one owns a campfire; they are for everyone.

Young and old alike look forward to that time of day when the light fades from the western sky, the chores are done, supper finished and there are tales to be told or memories to be savored. It signals the climax of the day. It is needed. As with the end-titles of a movie, it tells you the day is over.

Building a campfire is serious business. Woe be unto to those who would take it lightly. Picking the proper place to build a fire is no easy task. The builder must consider such things as wind direction, tent location, how many will be seated and terrain.

With care, the wood is selected. The driest of tinder-no leaves please-small dry limbs and chips and then, perfect logs. To one side, carefully hoarded would be the knots, chosen with care and perhaps even brought from a great distance. I once brought one home from Canada just to use here.

The builder works alone. He has his own set of mental blueprints to follow and a serious breach of etiquette would be to meddle in his business.

Campfires tend to fall automatically into a chronological chain. I remember them as far back as 1955. That fire was made mostly of hickory and bitter pecan. The knots were pine and it was cold. We sat about, eating squirrel jambalaya and talking of hunting things-bucks and ducks and squirrels. Catahoula

Swamp stretched out around us. We were camped on the banks of Mound Bayou. That was a talkative fire. Unfortunately, I have forgotten much of what it told me. Not the ones with whom I shared that fire.

Of more recent times, a quiet, slightly giggly fire at Cheatham WMA. It drew folks from other camps, those with less skill at building talking fires. They came to listen to mine. A light snow fell. Snow makes for great campfire watching as the flakes vanish into a laughing, winking monkey face. Don't blaspheme by roasting a marshmallow on a talking fire, either. Mickey, as always, told the best stories. Mickey! Russ was there. Russ! And Harold, Chuck, Wade...all gone now, tending other fires, I expect.

The many fires of my past have all somewhat blended, now. Mostly, I am left with a question. Why me? Why of all the good friends with whom I have shared joys, trials, tears, laughs, troubles and campfires, why am I the only one left? So many good friends, younger and older with whom I shared life.

Gone. Why me? Why am I still alive? I know God must have a reason. Maybe some cool autumn night, as I stare alone at a monkey face fire, He will share it.

The next time, maybe some time soon, you sit about a fire and share laughs and stories and memories, treasure the empty spaces left by those gone on ahead to build new monkey face fires.

Sometimes we can see them. Look just to the left of the moon on a clear night.

That's a monkey face fire.

Contact the author at jsloan1944@gmail.com

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