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 Stove vs Fire (editorial)


“Camping stoves are soulless contraptions at odds with the intent of The Wilderness Act and hostile to the tenets of real camping.  Use them only when you must!”  Sly Creek


“There was the fire, snapping and crackling and promising life with every dancing flame.”  Jack London, To Build a Fire


“Cooking in the outdoors is one of the most pleasurable aspects of an outing.  It is very rewarding to see the glow of achievement on a beginner’s face when he displays his first loaf of yeast bread baked over a campfire.”  Paul Petzoldt, The Wilderness Handbook,   Founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School.


“It was not until he had mastered its magic that he became a being set apart from wild nature.  With its magic he held even the most powerful predators at bay, and for the first time perhaps was able to sit with his fellow men in comfort and security.  And so fire not only cooked his food and gave him warmth, but it became a symbol of enlightenment and fellowship, for around it grew the place we call home and all the cultural germs of our civilization.”  Ellsworth Jaeger, Wildwood Wisdom, Curator of Education and Hayes professor of Science at the Buffalo Museum of Science.


Ellsworth Jaeger’s conclusions were given credence by Johan Goudsblom, University of Amsterdam, in the first Norbert Elias lecture, “The Civilizing Process and the Domestication of Fire.”  Goudsblom argues the domestication of fire is the cornerstone of civilization.


“When people gather around a fire they shed all modern artifice and return to the essence of self, revealing the naked soul.”  Ernest Thompson Seton


“Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature.  It indicates a spontaneous, Promethian rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.  Black chaos comes and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.”  Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native


“On the Delta one burns only mesquite, the ultimate in fragrant fuels.  Brittle with a hundred frosts and floods, baked by a thousand suns, the gnarled imperishable bones of these ancient trees lie ready-to-hand at every camp, ready to slant blue smoke across the twilight, sing a song of teapots, bake a loaf, brown a kettle of quail, and warm the shins of man and beast.”  Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


“He started a fire with some chunks of pine he got with the ax from a stump....On the smoking skillet he poured smoothly the buckwheat batter.  It spread like lava, the grease spitting sharply.  Around the edges the buckwheat cake began to firm, then brown, then crisp.  The surface was bubbling slowly to porousness.”  Ernest Hemingway, Big Two-Hearted River


“It was of the men, not white nor black nor red, but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and immitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter; - the best game of all, the best of all breathing and forever the best of all listening, the voices quiet and weighty and deliberate for retrospection and recollection and exactitude among the concrete trophies - the racked guns and the heads and skins - in libraries of town houses or the offices of plantation houses or (and best of all) in the camps themselves where the intact and still-warm meat yet hung, the men who had slain it sitting before the burning logs on hearths, when there were houses and hearths, or about the smoky blazing of piled wood in front of stretched tarpaulins when there were not."  William Faulkner, “The Bear,” from Go Down, Moses


“At this critical moment Mr. Ballou fished out four matches from the rubbish of an overlooked pocket.  To have found four gold bars would have seemed poor and cheap good luck compared to this.”  Mark Twain, Roughing It


It wasn’t until John Walker invented the friction match in 1827 that fire making became simple.  For ages humankind kept perpetual fires burning.  Little wonder that fire rests at the heart of our beliefs and mythology.


“And so, whether we realize it or not, all of our ancestral memories come surging to the surface from the depths of our beings when we sit around the campfire.  We too, are stirred by its magic, even as were our shadowy ancestors long ago.”  Ellsworth Jaeger


The domestication of fire occurred at least 10,000 generations ago and perhaps much longer.  Once mastered, the technology allowed people to move beyond the moderate climate barrier, to explore and inhabit new worlds.


Fire prolonged the life of food, made food portable and palatable.  Grass seeds could be turned into cakes.  Fire could transform mud into brick, rock into metal, and sand into glass.


Fire has served as a test of character, pathway to the spirit world, means of freeing the soul from its earthly body, host for divine vision and a special gift from God.


The domestication of fire is man’s greatest technological achievement.  For perhaps a million years using and watching campfire has been a life supporting, recreational, intellectual and spiritual experience.  Today in America, small-minded bureaucrats, armchair outdoor theorists and camp stove profiteers have successfully propagandized millions into believing building a campfire is an environmental sin.  Incredible.


Don Tryon,  March 2006