Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Notes From My Knapsack 6-16-11

Jeff Gill

By the Light of Another Campfire


There's a moment on most campouts, no matter how sugared up everyone got on 'smores, when things start to get quiet.

It's usually after dark, when the first round of Scouts have voluntarily gone off to their sleeping bags, and just after you've gone 'round to tell the rowdy crew over by the dining fly to quiet down with their euchre game, and checked the tents of the newer boys where the giggling comes in sudden waves and just as abruptly turns to silence mixed with snores.

You're back by the campfire, which was high as a signal beacon for Viking armies not long ago, but has now burned down to a sea of embers dotted with whitecaps of orange & blue flames.

Every so often, the glowing wood pops or just shifts, and a spray of sparks kick out and up, drifting into the night sky.

Some sparks go high, lasting longer than you think they'd might, and some wink out far earlier than you think they should.

Whether you're in a comfy camp chair or perched on a slice of tree trunk, there's a perimeter defined by the line between almost too hot on your face and knees, cool on the back of your neck. Adult scouters of long standing and a few of the older youth leaders make up the circle, with the occasional guitar or even a fiddle coming out to lend a melody line to the roundabout, singing one song after another, old and new in turn.

Not that the music isn't central to such a scene, but then there also comes conversation, a welcome time to talk without having to shout, that doesn't include a sudden shouted "put that down!" or "don't hold it that way if you like ten fingers!" It's a relaxed time, when campouts and hikes from years ago blur together, and blend into future treks, not yet taken but immediately real in our imaginations.

You can talk about almost anything at such times, if it's what you need to talk about. There's a store of wisdom and experience around the fire to match almost any challenge you may see ahead, personal or professional.

Embers have burned down to a dim glow now, and we are all but faces, the rest in darkness. The cold curls in around our shoulders, but the heat of the remaining coals keeps any of us from edging closer for fear of melting our boots. The songs pop up sporadically, and the conversations eddy from one side of the fire to the other, flaring into the whole circle from time to time.

One by one, the faces withdraw from the campfire, and mutter from off in the darkness "I'm going to bed." The last few remaining splash the corners of the firelay into a decent order, brush the cleared space beyond the rocky border a few perfunctory times, then lay a last log or two in the middle as a down payment on the morning's coffee, now just five or six hours away. A last word or two across the charmed circle, and then the faces become simply a voice wishing you a good night's sleep as you go your separate ways.

In Troop 65, I really hadn't had the chance to get to know Art Lowell as well as I'd have liked, and I was looking forward to the week ahead at summer camp, perhaps to get to know him better. We'd both sat around a few late night campfires, and assumed we both had many more ahead before lights out, and "Taps."

He will be present, though, at many gatherings yet to come, even though we laid him to rest, a young man of 50. And he will remind us to treasure every campfire, as our earthly light dims, and the sparks fly upward.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a campfire story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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