Fire. To me it ranks alongside, if not above, the ocean in terms of acting as nature's very own television set. I can stare into a fire for hours and that's not me being odd, that's something embedded in each and every one of us. That's passed down from our cavemen ancestors. It's in our DNA as human beings.
It's a couple of days after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere so the days are starting to lengthen in their slow run-up to summer, even if it is barely perceptible. But just because the worst of the darkness has passed, we're by no means out of the woods in terms of the cold. As far as the cold goes, the worst is yet to come, and we'll still be lighting fires to keep warm for a few months yet. But you don't stop lighting fires just because the sun comes out. What do you think a barbecue is after all? What do you gather around on summer evenings after a day on the beach?
In the words of the guys from the Best Made Company in the video featured below:
"The fire elicits a lot of different things, but the two things that come to mind are just conversation, and silence."
A fire can be the nucleus for storytelling, or the catalyst for quiet reflection, and often the same fire hosts both.
Fancy a fire? Here's a quick guide to generating some light and warmth, whether it be in the fireplace in your front room or out in the woods:
- Start small and get bigger. You need small, easily flammable material to start your fire off, such as scrunched up newspaper, thin twigs or wood shavings. This'll catch light easily but burn out fast, but you're just using it to set fire to the thicker, longer burning stuff. This chain goes from tinder to kindling right through to big logs.
- Use seasoned logs at home (wood that's been left to "dry out" for at least a year) and dead wood in the outdoors, otherwise all of the energy goes into burning dampish wood and not into generating heat and light. You'll just have a smokey, hissing and spitting fire that you have to lavish attention on for very little reward.
- Allow air to flow around the flame as you grow you fire. Don't suffocate it, fire needs to breathe too.
- Lay your fire with tinder as it's base. Kindling goes over the top of this, usually leant up around it in a teepee style, or cross hatched over the top. Once the kindling has caught then you can add thicker split branches and logs in the same fashion, being careful not to collapse the structure.
- Keep your blaze small and hot, to develop a "heart" of glowing embers.
- If you want to cook over your fire then you're best off lashing three stout poles together into a tripod from which you can hang a pot. Cook over your fire once it's died down to white-ish embers, just the same as with a barbecue. Naked flame will just burn your food without cooking it through.
- If you need your fire, then tend it carefully and don't let it die out. It's much easier to keep your fire fed and alive than it is to go through the whole process of lighting it again.
- Splitting logs and chopping kindling is way easier with a good, sharp, axe. But mind your fingers won't you.
- Don't be an idiot with fire. Keep a bit of healthy respect for nature. If you're outside then try to build your fire where others have had campfires before, dig a shallow basin or surround your fire with rocks to avoid it spreading and don't build a fire if it's unnecessary or you're in an area at risk from wildfires.
Rob awakening the embers still glowing from the previous night's fire. I slept curled around this wood-burning stove trying to ward off the draught coming from their spare room nicknamed "Narnia" because of it's icy breeze. This fire would be kept alive for days at a time, and keep the kettle permanently warm.
What the Tree Remembers, the Axe Forgets from Dark Rye on Vimeo.
Does this short webisode not just make you want to take a trip out to the woods for a few days? It does me.
All images by Mat Arney.