Even in the middle of May, the forest stays cool. I always notice the difference when I leave town after resupply. While climbing (because it’s always uphill to get back on the trail out of town) with my freshly loaded pack, I can feel the sweat starting to line my spine, leaving that moist spot between my back and my pack, despite the best efforts of my sweat-wicking shirt.
But as I crest yet another hill on this mountain range of the Appalachian Trail, I can still feel the coolness of the forest.
I stop and make camp a little further on, in a relatively clear cove near a bend in a stream. Having water nearby when you set up camp is a godsend. Otherwise your tired feet may have another hike to haul your water bag at the end of the day.
I learned quickly on my extended hike of the AT that I wasn’t going to have the ample amount of time I originally thought for reading, meditation, yoga, and campfires. It was commonplace for hikers to walk as far as their legs could carry them in a day. Sometimes I found myself pulling out my headlamp as the sun went down, looking for a flat place to pitch my tent.
But tonight I hadn’t pushed it so far, and it was dusk. The forest was cooling off even more as I unloaded my gear.
The thought enters my head - I’m gonna light a fire.
I know it’s not necessary. I know I can just heat up my chicken and rice on my portable stove, climb into my sleeping bag, zip up my tent, and call it a day.
But I want to start a fire.
So I make a fire ring out of rocks on a flat area free of surrounding brush. I collect leaves, small twigs, and some larger sticks and set them up teepee fashion.
Then I take out my lighter and light my sacred pile.
A small stream of smoke swirls from the leaf I had touched the flame to. But not a flicker of fire.
I do it again, in a different area. Same result.
The forest in May is cool because it holds the moisture from the rain. It had been a particularly rainy spring.
After several more failed attemps and a scuffed thumb, I am about to call it quits. This seems futile.
But what do I really have to lose?
If it doesn’t light, it doesn’t light. Not a big deal, I’ll just call it a day. But if it does light…then by golly, I’ve got a bonafide campfire!
So I continue. I eventually get a small patch of kindling to persist and glow with red flame. The flame licks up to the small bundle of twigs above it. Seeing that take, I proceed to do the same thing on the other side.
Eventually, the flames are enough that I no longer desire to put my hand all up in it any more.
The bigger sticks and small branches at the top catch.
The fire has begun.
We can’t give up on our dreams so easily. Our ideas to help others, save the world, and enjoy ourselves in the process, take time, dedication, and persistence. As well as a thoughtful laid out stack of branches.
I knew a hiker who started a fire in the rain. I rolled up to the shelter, tired as a dog, to be greeted by the warm flames and friendly faces gathered round. I later found out it had taken him hours to get it going.
Many of us had just spent the last several days in pouring rain through the Smoky Mountains. So along with our bodies soaking up the heat from his diligent project, our socks were also drying nearby.
Just get one piece of kindling lit.
It does make a difference.