The Light of the Fire

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Camp Merrowvista snowy winter council circle

By Kris Light

Every campfire has a purpose. It has been an essential part of our story as a species; a thing that once adopted helped define what it meant to be human. As a people, we have gathered around the flames for thousands of years to be warmed, fed, and made to feel protected by the light it provided. As we have modernized, the gifts of the flames have been procured from other sources. Our security comes behind walls, electricity provides the comfort of light, and the marvel of the modern kitchen makes cooking a simpler miracle. And yet, the campfire remains.

Music makers in Boys CampI love the ritual of building a fire. There is meditation in the clearing and preparation of the space within the circle of stones. I value the effort required to split dry wood down to the correct size. Building the structure of logs, kindling, and paper is a puzzle to be solved, a balancing act of providing sufficient fuel while also allowing for the space to breathe. There is intention in the construction, and there is faith in the potential of a well-executed plan. When it’s done well, one single, small match will bring about a blaze. To me there is no better metaphor for the potential of one person’s voice when that voice speaks with mindfulness.

As the fire grow it comes alive. The flames leap away from the earth and dance against the black of night. The wood cracks and hisses. The embers glow red hot and pulse, breathing deeply as the summer wind passes over. That living thing that bursts forth from that single match cannot be left alone. For all its wonder, the campfire is dependent on people to tend it. Ignored and unfed it will tire, fade, and extinguish. Treated carelessly it can rage beyond all control and become a destructive force. To sustain its purpose it relies on us to remain watchful, to sense its needs and to provide when needed.

Community sings songs around council circle fireThe campfire is one of the most enduring symbols of summer camp. Its purpose is to bring people together; to be an agent of connection. Stories are shared around fire rings, songs are sung, fears are processed, problems are worked out, and laughter echoes far into the darkness. Seated in a circle, bathed in that light and that warmth, every face is lit equally. The focal point makes us better listeners and clarifies our thoughts, allowing words to come easier. The fire ties us to the things we have in common as people, regardless of background or identity, and provides a sense of security to reveal and revel in what makes us unique as individuals. After all these thousands of years the campfire still calls, still draws us close, and gifts us the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging in each other’s company.