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Campfires allow time for visiting, reflecting

May. 09, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"Yesterday is ashes. Tomorrow is green wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly." -- Eskimo Proverb (Sent to me by Jennifer Elkins)

I am intrigued by words. Words fill my every thought, flow through my movements, and round out my soul. As I go through my day, I am continually amazed by phrases my students will use, written passages flowing seamlessly through books and staccato-like expressions spoken by radio and TV announcers alike. Frequently, I collect these thoughts like a little girl collects daisies in her child-size hands for her mother.

Recently, a reader, Jennifer Elkins, blessed me with an email. It was a brief, but meaningful note that brightened my day immensely. Following her message was a quote. Quite often, I have observed email "signatures" with an attached saying that I imagine is supposed to either inspire the reader or maybe sum up the sender. Personally, I have yet to find one quote that "fits" for me; and, therefore, have not chosen to put this habit into practice. However, I am frequently intrigued by what others choose to use. Therefore, Ms. Elkins' inspirational signature quote gave me cause to pause.

Our family frequently enjoys fires. During the winter, we keep a fire burning steadily throughout the chilly evenings in our wood-burning stove. In the summer, we enjoy campfires when we can, especially when we travel. In fact, one of the items we look for when choosing a vacation home is a fire ring.

There is something hypnotic, relaxing and soothing about a fire. Once built and roaring, its colorful flames leap and dance across the burning wood. There is something inviting about a fire that seems to say, "Come sit for a spell. Spend a little time together. Swap stories. Laugh out loud. Eat a s'more or two. Or, just sit quietly together, gazing at the stars." Fires speak to me like that, just as words do.

Going to a new vacation spot, I will frequently look at the ashes of previous fires and wonder about them. Who sat here? What were they like? Did they enjoy the fire as much as we do? Did they roast marshmallows? Perhaps they played guitar and sang. The ashes hide their secrets from me because it was the past -- a past of which I was not part.

Traveling from place to place, as our family frequently does, I've learned a thing or two about gathering wood for campfires. Look for fallen limbs -- never break branches from living trees, as the "green" wood does not easily light or burn well. Plus, why damage a living thing? Instead, look on the ground mostly for dry wood of varying sizes. Small, thin pieces for kindling; medium size broken branches for building heat; and larger/thicker logs for maintaining the fire's heat. Oak, cherry and hickory burn hotter than maple, fruit trees and pine. One can moderate and control the fire's temperature with a variety of wood types.

However, when traveling, we only burn enough wood that will last for the amount of time we will be sitting fireside. There is no sense trying to keep the fire burning throughout the night and into the next day. This is because we won't be there to enjoy it. Campfires are not really about the heat they provide -- at least not in the summertime -- but more about the moment in time they create. This is what I like about the message of the Eskimo Proverb that was part of Ms. Elkins' email signature.

Yesterday happened. Right or wrong; full of mistakes or seemingly perfect; harried or meticulously savored, the past is gone -- burned up, used up or lifted skyward through smoke. There is no warmth provided by the past, no bright light by which to see, only the faint scent of what was remains.

Tomorrow is not unusable. It offers promises that it might be ready to "burn." Yet, you certainly cannot count on it to provide you with the glow, radiance and persistence that only the presence can bring.

Today is the moment to gather firewood. Usually the pieces we need to build a bright fire can be found close by "grounded" in the people with whom we interact daily -- from our immediate family, to our friends and coworkers, to loved ones far and near. There is usually no need to break off in "new" limbs of directions as the variety of "wood" we need is usually within arms' reach.

Such a lesson found in a small bundle of words.

Words have the power to change. This I believe. Ms. Elkins, your words added kindling to my day. Your added inspirational quote was just the right size for building heat. And now, I hope I am able to maintain the fire of your words by sharing their gleaming light with others.

May today, your words, and for that matter, your life, burn brightly.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.