Forest fires that burn thousands of acres can be set with a single carelessly tossed cigarette butt. Entire buildings can burn to the ground as the result of a tiny spark from the frayed end of a wire chewed by a mouse, and the family home can be destroyed by a small child innocently playing with matches. Yet if you were to give me a gallon of gasoline, a carton of matches, a cord of wood, and a bundle of newspapers, I couldn’t start a decent campfire to save my soul.
It’s not that I’m an innocent. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of nights out camping in the woods, fields, mountains and canyons. I’ve traversed the continent, by motorcycle, car and hitchhiking, sleeping out alone, squirreled away, remaining unseen – rising before daybreak for a quick cup of hot soup from the one-burner and then off into the new day before I’m seen.
Campfires are dirty and smelly. They require gathering tinder and finding and breaking up wood. They spit sparks into the night and betray your location. They blind your eyes to the dark and they leave an ugly black scar on the ground.
If you ever go camping with me, don’t expect me to start a campfire, to have the fixings for s’mores or weenies to roast. I'm not sure if it's because I can't start them, or because I just don't want to, but the best I can offer is some thoughtful conversation under the stars, a shot or two of Jack Daniels, and maybe a tune on the harmonica before I hit the bag.