The Last Word on Life at the Lake: Cooler Days, Longer Campfires

One of the great joys of shorter, cooler days is that it makes sense to have a campfire. In the summer when it’s still 80°F at night it’s not quite as pleasant. I don’t let that stop me from enjoying a roaring fire by the lake, but even I can’t argue with the logic that as it gets colder and colder campfires actually start to make sense.

I grew up in a tradition of large campfires. I can remember my uncles egging each other on to throw more and more wood on the fire until the thing got big enough to roast a cow. I grew up in Wisconsin, so that wasn’t entirely outside of the realm of possibility. At the very least everyone at those get togethers would have to pull their chairs 20 feet back while trying to cool their burnt shins.

My friend Russel once insisted on throwing his entire Christmas tree into the fire during his Fourth of July party. You can imagine how dry it was. I told him three times that it was a bad idea because those things explode into a fireball when they’re that dry. After my third warning, when he would hear no logic, I decided to step out of his way. If he wanted to turn his patio into an inferno, who was I to stop him? I only asked him to wait for a second so I could get my camera ready.

S’mores are one of the least practical campfire traditions. I’ve never seen a child successfully make one. Their process always includes waving a flaming marshmallow around on the end of a stick, often while standing within inches of other kids also waving flaming blobs of gelatin. Then they declare that they are uninterested in the marshmallow after it’s extinguished and instead, they just want to eat the chocolate and find other things they can start on fire.

The campfire smoke is a factor, of course. It hangs around in the jacket you wore by the fire for a few days, to say nothing of getting it blasted in your eyes. At summer camp they’d tell us to say “white rabbit” three times in a row and by then the smoke would no longer be in your eyes. I can confirm that the only age group dumb enough to believe and try this out is 6th grade boys.

People in that same age group are also handy for foraging for more sticks to throw on the fire once it starts to die down. Even though they manage to find lots of tree roots instead of sticks and often trip and fall down right next to the fire while carrying armloads of sticks, it beats having to get up myself to forage myself.

I seldom need to buy firewood. Not because I’m cutting down trees and splitting wood. I wish. No, we occasionally rent our house out when no one is using it. People on vacation always overbuy two items: beer and firewood. One of the great ancillary benefits of renting out your house is coming home to a refrigerator packed with beer and a big pile of firewood in your garage. Cheers to campfire season.

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