Night falls, and the skies are vast and dark. The glow of the campfire pulls its people in close and intimate, safe and cozy against the mysteries beyond.
For even the most commonly trod territories take on new possibilities in the dark.
Creatures of the night move in and out of the scene. Fireflies flash up, flash down, never in the same place twice. Moths flutter about, and perhaps bats swoosh above.
When it’s not a cloudy night, stars twinkle impossibly high above.
It’s not the plot that makes the story so good or the ingredients that make the s’mores so tasty.
It’s the companionship, whether among buddies, lovers, a scouts troop or family.
Building the fire is a lesson passed from grandfather to grandchild or troop leader to scout. The child scurries about in the forest, picking up kindling.
The fire pit is cleaned and prepared, and the smallest twigs, leaves, forest litter or crumpled papers (supper’s paper plates fit the bill) are scattered as tinder.
The child’s collection of kindling is enthusiastically and respectfully praised before being set down over the smaller pieces.
Delicate little hands help Grandpa’s sturdy, strong hands lift firewood and put it in place. The match is lit, and breaths are held in anticipation until the fire takes – cheers! – and then either settles in strong and steady or fizzles out and must be re-attempted.
Collecting marshmallow-roasting sticks requires much more expertise than the mere kindling. Such sticks must be long enough to reach from chair to fire. They need not be perfectly straight, but they should not have enough crook or curve in them to throw them off balance at the gradual rotations that brown the marshmallow evenly.
Of course, a marshmallow stick must come to a good point on the end, or perhaps Grandpa or an uncle could cut one in.
The ultimate marshmallow stick, as rare as it is exciting, is forked to hold two marshmallows evenly, and the finder of it is heralded indeed, basking in the compliments that accompany the display of the find.
The first marshmallows are held over the fire briefly, perhaps allowed to flare up in flame, leaving a crisp black edge to crunch. After the first temptation is satisfied, the slower roasts begin. Patience is required to hold the marshmallow over the fire, stick rotated evenly, to turn the entire thing into a lightly browned, soft delight.
Squashed with a segment of a Hershey bar between two graham-cracker squares, it becomes a s’more.
A campfire is made for stories, whether family legends and anecdotes or spooky tales of the inexplicable.
A guitar comes out. The tune is the same, but will the lyrics be “On Top of Old Smokey” or “On Top of Spaghetti” or both?
The dancing, bright flames command the attention, and the images of loved ones blur the periphery.
Silent appreciation is given for the moment carved out of time. This night, so different from regular life, is another world suspended, immutable, returned to time and again as if it had never been left, year after year.
A chill begins to bite at the neck, shoulders, backs of the arms. Cold is settling in.
Even as eyelids grow heavy and the sleeping bag beckons, chairs move in closer to the fire, and another log is added.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.