Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
The first campfire of the season.
The hot dogs are roasted, marshmallows melted. The sky turns purple-blue as the sun sets and the stars appear through the evening haze. The smoke from the fire rises straight up, no hint of a breeze. The split oak pops and cracks, scattering embers out of the fire pit.
I stare into the flames, mesmerized by their dance. There is something intoxicating about a bonfire. The hiss of the wood, the cracking of the logs, the blue smoke.
A person can get lost in their thoughts watching the glow.
The flames take you away with their magic. I lean forward towards the heat. The coals heave from orange to white keeping the fire fueled. I poke at the ashes sending sparks skyward into the blackness of night.
I think about where I’m at, where I’ve been and where I’m going.
A snap of a twig in the woods to my rear snaps me out of my trance. An unseen critter, likely a coon or a opossum on their nightly foray searching for a meal. I peer into the inky darkness of the woods, blind from facing the fire and listen as the animal scurries on. I turn back towards the flames and am reminded why mountain men, cowboys and pioneers were always said to have sat with their backs facing their fires so they could see away from the flames and into the night when knowing your surroundings and whom or what was in them could be a matter of life or death.
I let the fire’s magic work again and drift back into my own thoughts.
It’s only May, but my mind takes me to Autumn and the upcoming hunting season. I think about what needs to be done beforehand and what I’ll do in the time in between. I ponder how this summer will be as an empty nester. I think about how quickly my regular hunting partner over the last several years has turned into a fine young man and how it’s time for his rope to be removed and to let him go one his own. Time for him to find himself and his own story, his own adventure as a lump raises in my throat.
I’m reminisce with my own thoughts of being outdoors with my kids and the memories of past hunting and fishing excursions come flowing back into my mind, as real and colorful as the day the memory was made. The first fishes, the first squirrels. I remember carrying my daughter in a backpack on long hikes before her own memories were even formed. I look back fondly on what we’ve shared outside in the woods or along the banks of a pond.
I toss a piece of seasoned ash onto the pile and again spark fly into the night sky. The new fuel brightens the flames as they lick higher and higher. I prod at the coals and let the tip of my poker catch fire and shake the flames out and leave a miniature com trail with the smoke from the end of my stick…
“You’ll wet the bed if you play with fire” plays in the back of my head and I grin at the thought that probably every kid from my generation and prior has heard that from an adult at some point. I silently hope that the warning isn’t true or I’m in for a long night as I laugh at my own thoughts.
The night’s dew has settled like a damp blanket and it’s time let the fire relax and die. I scuff around the coals and the flames peter out, breathing one last gasp before settling into a glowing pile of orange and yellow embers.
I gather my camp chair along with my thoughts and head off for a peaceful sleep and truly feel refined by the flames…
– David Hewitt