Today I made a point to get to the woods and build a fire. Since the first time I read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire,” I’ve always put maximal effort to building the “perfect fire.” Growing up in Alaska, I have acquired a large amount of fire starting expertise derived from years of experience in a variety of situations. Due to Southeast Alaska’s average rainfall of 13 feet (yes, feet!) per year, many times fire could only be achieved after dousing the tinder, kindling and fuel wood with gasoline or a flammable paste rather than a single match. Well today, I looked up at the snow covered mountains and decided to hone this sometimes-critical “man-skill.” I quickly packed a survival rucksack with some man-made tinder (bicycle inner-tubing… great stuff, plus it’s waterproof and lights even when wet), matches, a lighter, a steel flint, and a survival candle. I tossed the bag into my Jeep and headed into the mountains.
I wheeled through the deep snow drifts covering the mountain trails, only engaging my ARB locking differentials a few times to negotiate the trail. I enjoyed watching the Jeep’s rock crawling tires churning the deep virgin snow, knowing that I had the entire mountain to myself. After a bit of exploring, I gathered firewood from abandoned hasty-trailside campfire pits, tossing the wood into the backseat or onto the roof rack. When I arrived to where I intended to build my fire, I quickly when into my fire building priorities of work: I cleared the snow to the bare ground to, laid a base of logs on which to build the fire, stacked my fuel wood in log cabin-style fire configuration, placed a nest of my kindling within the log cabin, gathered my tinder which consisted of some “old man’s beard” and “lighter knot” that I had found on the nearby trees as well as my bicycle inner-tube.
I had always been taught to use a match to light a candle, never to light the tinder. Once the candle is lit, then you use the candle to light your tinder, once you tinder lights the kindling, blow out the candle, and then feed the kindling until the fuel wood is lit, and then you get reap the rewards of your fieldcraft… fire! On this occasion I used the match to light a candle, which I used to light a 1″x1″ piece of inner-tube to light the lighter knot and old man’s beard. Soon the kindling was lit and in a snap the log-cabin was ablaze. I had gathered enough firewood previously that all I needed to do was feed and tend to the fire while I finished setting up my day camp… just a hammock and a cup of coffee. Within 5min of placing a water-filled stainless steel cup on a log on the edge of the fire the water was at a rolling boil. I added some coffee from a military meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) ration and soon had a proper albeit “G.I. cup o’ joe”.
I settled into the hammock, sipped my coffee, stared into the fire (aka “Ranger TV”), and listened to the cracks and pops of the fire and the wind blow through the mountain pines. The fire was white hot from being stoked by the strong wind and after only a few minutes I found myself piling on wood to keep the fire blazing. I entertained myself around camp with a lil’ wood carving / whittling and target plinking with a Ruger 10/22 .22cal rifle I brought along. Before long I was stoking the fire one last time before rocking lazily in the hammock, watching the fire consume itself. Before the sun slipped behind the mountain top, I extinguished the fire with water and snow, ensuring it was completely out, and headed back down the mountain towards civilization. I had made fire and was as warm from the satisfaction of doing so as from the fire itself.
What about you… what activity or task, when done correctly, brings a smile to your face and / or warms your heart just from the satisfaction of proper execution?