Since prehistoric times (https://www.history.com/news/human-ancestors-tamed-fire-earlier-than-thought), a fire has been an important tool for human evolution. Gathering together around a fire was part of survival. Our ancestors used fire to cook their food, keep warm, protect themselves from predators, and move into colder climates. As evolution and technology advanced, many skills our ancestors excelled at started to wane, and fire-making is one of them.
Today, we use an electric range or even a microwave to cook or heat our food. Even when using natural gas, new ranges and grills have an electric/spark interface to start the flames. If we need to make a campfire, we even have lighters. The commodity that these items bring hinders basic skills perfected by our ancestors. The best example is the 20th Century Fox movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks. As a modern human, he knew many things were important. Fire is one of them. I remember laughing when he finally was able to make a fire. I felt a connection from my younger days when I made my first fire.
To understand how important fire is, we needed to have all of the materials required ahead of time. We gathered wood, branches, leaves, and sticks. Experienced friends were always present to ensure safety, but it was up to us to create the fire. The catch was that there were only three matches with no sharing between us. You might say, “Hey, but matches are a new technology.” Yes, they are, but the purpose of this was to learn the basics around the right construct for fire.
Many of you can imagine already that we failed terribly the first time around. We used all of our three matches with no fire that kept going. When using the first match, everyone used too many leaves, and it started to burn quickly, but it did not last long. That was strike one for the first match. For the second attempt, everyone did a mix of leaves and branches with leaves. That did not work either. That was strike two for the second match. Finally, everyone used leaves and sticks. The fire started, but since it was not enough materials to maintain the fire, it eventually died. Strike three, and we are out in the cold.
How frustrating that was. Fire is easy, I thought. Light a match, and the fire goes. I could not be farther away from the truth. In the wild, it takes time to gather the right materials that can help you create a fire that will keep on going. We learned that even though leaves are a source of fuel, they tend to burn too quickly. Branches with leaves are good, but only after the fire started. Small sticks are good, but they need help to maintain the fire.
For the next night, we took the time and gathered many small sticks, dry tree bark, leaves, dry grass, small thin branches, and other pieces of wood. We learned that leaves burned too quickly, but when mixed with the sticks, it lasted longer. Accidentally, we learned to create a cinder box that will help you create the flames. Everyone had their own approach, but the basics were the same. You mix some of the grass, along with the leaves and thin branches. Some placed this on top of the dry tree bark, others on top of more thin branches.
The decisive moment arrived, it was night, and we needed to make the fire. I arranged my materials and lit up the first match. I remember how flames started to consume the leaves, grass, and sticks slowly. I was excited, like Tom Hanks. However, it did not last long. The sticks I selected were not dried enough, and the fire would not consume them. Strike one. I took the time to sort through the sticks I had and found some that were. I rearranged the leaves, grass, and the new sticks and used my second match. The flames started to grow, as did my enthusiasm. I made a fire. I made sure to put more sticks to keep it going. Then I placed a branch, big mistake. Since the fire had not been going on for a while, it was not hot enough to start consuming the branch. The fire died.
What a heartbreaking moment it was. I had a fire, and now I did not. I was in my last match, and I had consumed many sticks and leaves. I took the branch out and placed the leftover thin sticks in the burnt pile I had. Since I needed more thin sticks, it dawned on me, “I can make more.” I took a small dried branch and used a knife to start peeling away small strips from it. I kept doing this until I had a nice amount of small and thin “sticks.” I took advantage of the still smoking burnt pile and placed the peelings on top. I covered the peelings using the last few leaves and made a space between the peelings and the leaves to protect the match from the wind. I was nervous as I took my last match and lit it. I carefully placed it in the space I made. The flames started to consume new leaves and leftover material. The peelings I made started to catch fire, and soon I had nice flames.
Instead of throwing the whole branch, I kept breaking it into smaller and thin pieces. Eventually, the fire was hot enough to place the leftover branch, which started to burn. I took the tree bark and added it to the mix. The fire did not die and lasted a long time. It kept going. I was happy. I made a fire.
Here is a parting thought to share. This story relates to a lesson taught by Trailblazing Hope Outdoors; never give up. Maybe you heard this from the young group of people that were part of the activities. Just because you failed in the first attempt does not mean that you will not learn the skill or even excel.
Just do not give up, even when you have only three matches…
Hope From the Trail
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