Memories of Cool Weather and Roaring Fires
By Jeff Salter
This week our topic seeks memories of campfires or bonfires. My discussion of bonfires will be brief, because I recall only one — either my junior or senior year of high school. It was the annual event right before the homecoming football game and the members of the team – presumably supervised by someone on the coaching staff – had constructed an enormous pile of timber and scrap lumber. Team members had been stationed there throughout the preceding night, in order to ward off any destruction of our pile by the rival high school. [And, yes that had occurred at least once. And it may have been reciprocated.] Once it was ignited – presumably by an adult who knew what he was doing (if not a volunteer fireman) – it immediately blazed up into a spectacular inferno. Don’t recall the weather, but presumably it was chilly — perfect weather for hugging your sweetie. Can’t actually remember this part, but I assume there was an accompanying pep rally — since the event was centered on the homecoming game of the following night.
But I do remember many, many campfires. Assuming you have decent weather (meaning, no rain), adequate clothing for the temperature, and the absence of skeeters — there’s hardly a more relaxing experience than sitting around a campfire with friends or family. And there’s something about being around a campfire that makes you want to have a stick in your hand. Not that you’re necessarily the one who’s actively tending the fire… but the stick gives you a direct connection to those flames. Just an occasional poke here and there, now and then. Probably goes back to caveman days.
Some campfires were made for singing. Others were made for silence. With some campfires, it’s okay to have one subdued conversation right here and a different one over yonder. Possibly the best campfire venue is when you have a story teller… and the best stories for a campfire, of course, are ghost tales.
It’s difficult to remember a period in my life when I did NOT experience a nice campfire. I recall them from boy scouts, from the camp-outs some of us buddies had at the estate of our friend David Dwight, and from the camp-outs those same buddies had at other places (including “the Point” — where the Tchefuncta River meets Lake Ponchartrain). I remember campfires with the youth group at church — at least one of these after a hayride to the site.
I remember at least one campfire with just me and my Dad, which was the primary inspiration for the following poem.
By Jeffrey L. Salter
I can recall a squat on cold haunches
as close to the fire as we could,
cooking the food and warming our hands
as smoke curled grey from the wood.
We skewered spuds and chunks of meat
on the blade of a hunting knife
not needing to state that what tasted best
were the simple things in life.
With an old pup tent and homemade bags
we set up our camp for the dark.
A camper pulled onto a concrete slab
(announced by a sissy dog’s bark).
They parked, leveled, connected the rig,
put lawn chairs under the awning;
their empty chatter and dreary TV
soon had all of them yawning.
Every convenience was hauled in that camper,
they “roughed it” for all they were worth;
they brought to the woods a portable house
and hardly touched actual earth.
Their whole life seemed plastic and metal:
every gadget had tangled wire.
We had good food and some level ground
and warmth from our crackling fire.
We were resourceful and eager to live,
you less a father than brother,
joined by our pleasure for simple things
and our simple love for each other.
2nd Honorable Mention — 1982 National Writer’s Club Poetry Contest
Originally written (free verse, 51 lines) for Simon A. Salter’s 51st birthday in 1971
Overhauled (structured & rhymed, 28 lines) in 1982
I remember campfires with our friends (the Odoms), with our daughter and son-in-law at various campgrounds, with my sister and her family in a park near our home in NW Louisiana, with in-laws and cousins at the former home of Rita and Charles Williams (my late in-laws).
Of all the campfires I’ve experienced, there is only one element which ruins it for me (I mean, besides rain or skeeters)… and that’s people with their faces glued to their cell phones. Folks, for heaven’s sake — you’re outdoors, in the beauty of nature, with friends and/or family, and around a beautiful fire. Turn off your stinking phone and look at the flames! Listen to the stories, sing the songs… whatever’s going on around that fire, involve yourself in it. Save the phone stuff for later!
End of lecture.
What memories do YOU have of campfires or bonfires?
[JLS # 403]