Making Fire

When we were in our twenties, living in the Interior of BC, my husband and I considered ourselves very capable campers. The canoe was usually on top of the VW van, ready for action each weekend. It took very little for us to prepare for a camping trip because we never really unpacked. The basics were always ready. We threw in a few clothes and groceries and off we went.

We had discovered a good fishing spot way out in the boonies where it would be rare to meet another person. The plan was to go back there, but this time instead of bringing our trout home to cook, we would make a fire by the lakeside and fry the fish right there. I loaded our black cast iron frying pan, a bit of butter, salt and pepper into our mess kit of camp dishes and cutlery. All was set, and off we drove.

The lake and the surrounding meadow and forest would have made a perfect calendar photo. The weather co-operated; not too hot, but just warm enough to be comfortable. A beautiful day. We canoed the small lake and enjoyed the bird life around us. Trout begged to be allowed into the canoe. We had to force ourselves to stop fishing when we had enough to eat.

Back on land, glowing from the fresh air and healthy exercise of paddling, we stretched our legs.

“I’ll clean the fish.” My husband took the trout and walked some distance along the shore.

“I’ll get a fire ready.” I put a few big rocks together to build a firepit on the gravelly  beach. I gathered dry wood from the nearby woods and built a good teepee of sticks with very small bits of kindling in the middle. Then I brought out the frying pan, butter, salt and pepper.

“Do you have the matches?” I asked my husband when he came back with the cleaned trout.

“No, I thought you were packing all that stuff.” He slapped his pockets looking for matches or a lighter.

I rummaged in my purse. Small chance of finding anything in there. Not only was it a jumble of junk but neither of us smoked so we weren’t in the habit of carrying matches or lighters on our person. I looked in the glove compartment, in the mess kit, in the box of supplies from home.

We stood there looking from the fish to the pan to each other. The wheels were turning in my brain, and I thought, “We’re two outdoor types with lots of camping experience. Surely we can make a fire. How hard can it be? So think. What would a person lost in the woods do? ”

“I know,” I said. “We could use a piece of glass and let the sun heat up the kindling or a piece of paper.” I held a drinking glass over a piece of Kleenex and focused the sun’s rays on the paper. It wasn’t exactly a scorcher of a day and the rays were feeble. Nothing was happening, not even a hint of smoke. “Hmm … well … we could rub two sticks together?”

My husband shook his head. “It doesn’t work just like that.”

“What do you suggest?” I had already run out of ideas.

“I suggest we take the fish home and cook them on the stove.”

I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “How about like in the cowboy movies?  You know, where they pour gas on something and then shoot into it and it lights up?”

“Aw, that doesn’t work.” He waved me off and started to pack up the fish.

“Well, couldn’t we try it?” I so much wanted to fry those trout on the campfire. I had everything else ready right down to the napkins.

“Okay, I’ll do it just to show you.” He brought his .22 rifle out of the truck. From the spare gas caddy, he poured a bit of gasoline on the teepee of sticks I’d built. “Stand back then.” He fired into the gasoline.

I was all ready to unpack the trout and throw them into the pan. I was sure we’d have a roaring fire in the next few seconds. But what did we have?

“There!” he said. “Are you satisfied? It only works in the movies.”

I’m sorry to tell you that there’s no happy ending to this story. Two over-confident seasoned campers didn’t get to use their seasoning on the trout. Instead, they went home to a big helping of humble pie.

The fire that I wished we could have made.

31 thoughts on “Making Fire

  1. Bless you! I think, knowing me, I probably would have insisted he drive home and come back with the matches (and a decent amount of methylated spirits, just to give the flames some ooomph in case the wood doesn’t take), no matter what time we would have subsequently been able to cook. Beautiful story and fantastic pictures. I so want to come and visit!

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  2. How disappointing for you after all that organizing. Even in those days vehicles had a cigarette lighter but perhaps you had it removed and plugged in something else? Even more so at that time. Too bad you couldn’t get a spark or two from the battery in the VW bus. Oh well, I am sure the trout were delicious nonetheless! Pretty photos!

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    • There must have been a way, but I guess it wasn’t a case of life or death, so we didn’t try more desperate measures. It was lots of fun there anyway. In a pinch, if we were hungry enough, we could have chewed on a raw trout, I suppose.

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  3. Our camping has become a winter thing because my husband is a commercial fisherman and is away in the summer. He says next summer we’ll camp more. He’ll take a season off. We used to have great outdoor experiences (and the odd mini-disaster).

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  4. Great post! A similar thing happened to me this past winter while I was out ice-fishing. I had brought two lighters along, but whether it was the cold or something else, neither of them would work. Similar to your story, it was a shorter trip than planned and I ended up eating at home.

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  5. I am so sorry you couldn’t make a fire that lovely day with all that fish. I know the feeling, I have been nearly there. But I guess since then you have never forgot matches when out camping…

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    • No eyeglasses. Too young at the time and lucky not to have needed them then, but this is why the water glass didn’t work. I think you need more of a magnifying type of lens to concentrate the sun’s (feeble that day) rays. Eyeglasses would have been good.

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