I sit here, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with only the moonlight and muscle memory to guide my fingers while I type, my thoughts fresh in my mind. Fire; it’s amazing and serves many purposes.
I’m shivering right now, so this obviously brings to mind the most obvious of fire’s uses; warmth. Just a few twigs can produce enough heat to keep a person from chills in all but the deepest cold. Even though I have sufficient wood to burn, I want to stretch my fire for as long as I can, so I keep it small. Despite its small size, and the fact that it is below freezing (barely, but ice is still forming), I have stayed comfortable adding just a few twigs at a time… sadly though, this has only lasted a few hours, and I have now come to the end of my extremely limited Patagonian supply of combustible wood. Granted, I am in a desert and all the dead wood is dry, but firewood is very much at a premium as nothing of size grows, and what does grow can survive drought just fine, making it too green to burn. Having exhausted what I can find without a major hike or more light than my small LED produces, I now sit here with no fire at all.
This makes me think of the another important purpose of fire. While heat and survival are the first things to come to mind, I am far from desperate. I have many more clothes I could put on, and if it came to it I could climb into my 0ºf sleeping bag and be plenty warm. Despite being well past the prime season to visit Patagonia, I am lucky that it is only just freezing, the wind almost non existent, and the sky clear. So nice in fact, that I haven’t even bothered to set up a tent, simply rolling my sleeping bag out under the stars… my favorite way to camp! Still, the fact that my toes are beginning to chill, or that my fingers are numb, are minor problems compared to the fact that I miss my fire. I miss my companion of the last few hours!
I am alone, with no riding companions to keep me company and this is much more of an issue than I had thought it would be. While I still enjoy camping, in a way I almost do it more to just make things more efficient, rather than doing it because it is nicer than a hotel. I have learned that I am not a solo traveler and I need someone to keep me company. Having a fire has changed this, however, making it almost like having a friend with me. While I am just as solo as any other nights camping on this trip, my morale is much higher. I knew in the back of my mind that fire was known to have this effect, but I had never experienced it personally since I almost always camp with friends. This would be all the more important in any sort of survival situation, where your life depends as much on your attitude towards living as it does on anything physical.
I am now a firm believer in the advice of those survival shows telling you to start a fire even if you are not cold or cooking. It has made an impressive difference in my enjoyment of solo camping. The previous campsites had been amazingly beautiful, but I wasn’t sure of fire restrictions so instead of starting one I just sat in the dark reading by dim light or listening to my audio books, which gets old after a while. I enjoyed my fire so much that I actually just sat there, sipping on a glass of Scotch until almost midnight before I realized that it was so late and I really needed to go to sleep. Had my wood lasted longer I probably would have stayed up much later enjoying my companion’s heat flickering noise.
This doesn’t apply to all people, or all situations. I know many people who have no desire to have any fire, beyond that of their stove, even on the coldest of nights. These folks (honestly, nothing derogatory intended!) have obviously not grown up with campfires and, I’ve found, are generally not terribly inclined towards anything but solo camping in the first place. Every person is different, and while I admire their ability to be so happy alone, it isn’t for me. Even on a summer night in Arizona, with friends around, my psyche still craves a camp fire. It simply brings things together; it makes something that is otherwise fun and interesting, simply fantastic. With a camp fire, any number of friends have a place to congregate, or to heat water for tea, or to warm cold hands, or… I could go on and on. Fire is amazing.
That being said, my fire having long since died, I am beginning to shiver uncontrollably. This is my cue to plug in my jacket, get warm, and call it a night. I will be up in exactly eight hours to hit the road. Hopefully I will be able to find more wood with the light of dawn, as some more tea would be great – hot tea is irreplaceable to get me moving. Never underestimate the power of fire, as one day it may save your life, even on a warm night with nothing to cook.