My son-in-law, Kip, was sitting across from me. I could not see that his 4-year-old son, Colter, was sleeping in his arms. Kip was the last to leave the fire, except for me, saying that he had better go in because little Colter was getting cold.
I sat alone by the dying fire, dreaming of campfires past while staring into the brilliant orange and black coals. Occasional blue flames went spinning out of charred wood, chasing errant gasses. The crackle and snap of exploding twigs sent little showers of orange sparks a few feet up into the night air.
I wanted the experience of sitting by the fire to be as it used to be, but my muscles are no longer supple and strong. I am not as comfortable in my body as I once was, and the incessant ringing in my ears was especially noticeable in the nighttime silence.
I kept running over the lines I once wrote in the dedication to a friend who died while on a wood-gathering expedition in the La Sal Mountains: “May his spirit soar on a mountain wind. May his tears kiss the earth when it rains. And sometime at night, by my small mountain fire, may he visit me again.”
As I sat alone by that small mountain fire, looking at the dark timber across the moonlit meadow, I wondered if tonight might be the night of his long-overdue visit. I thought, “Not likely.” It was a fanciful notion to begin with, more poetic than prophetic. I have heard tell that all prophets are poets but not all poets are prophets.
It has been more than 30 years since he died. We wouldn’t have much in common anymore. I might ask him a question or two but I never was one to ask him questions. It may be that one of the reasons we became such good friends, even brothers, was that I didn’t pry into his past. He was what he was, and I loved him. As usual, I would most likely just listen to whatever he had to say.
The second evening, we sat around the fire playing silly games. We told jokes and stories and I played my harmonica. Little Colter got too close to the fire and several people yelled at him to be careful. He went to his 16-year-old cousin, Tyler, and climbed into his lap. He asked Tyler why everyone was mad at him. Tyler explained that they were not mad at him but had yelled at him because they didn’t want him to get burned. It was a tender exchange and assurance. It then began to rain and everyone dashed for tents and trailers. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled through the night.
The next morning, Barbara and I broke camp and slowly brought our trailer down from the mountain over wet roads. Later, we heard that it had begun to rain again and that one of our granddaughters and her husband had rolled their little pickup on the descent. They were banged up but not seriously hurt.
Sitting by a nighttime fire, listening to the snaps and crackles of sparks, the shuffle of shifting embers, and soaking in the delicious aroma of smoke, is mesmerizing. It speaks to something deep and old, within us. It is peaceful. It extends open arms of welcome. It gives a sense of security against the monsters of the night.
I think of the great, descriptive names given to ranches and to geographical features. I think of the Hash Knife outfit of Arizona, the King Ranch of Texas. If I were to name a place for something dear to me, I would call it Campfire. What could be more inviting?