Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fanning the Flames

We were camping.

I was performing my manly duty – actively managing the fire by appearing to stare blankly into it.

Some would describe this open-mouthed, slack-jawed appearance as ‘stupor,’ or ‘alcohol poisoning.’ It is, in fact, intense concentration and relaxation, all combined into one blank gaze.

I display the same focused look when scrolling through TV channels, or when firmly yet gently scratching my privates. Sometimes both simultaneously, which can be wonderfully therapeutic.

While fire-tending makes me appear to be comatose I am, in fact, planning my next daring manipulation (of the fire). There is a lot to consider: bark side up or down? New log touching a neighbouring log or free-standing? Full Round piece or Quartered? Direct thrust into the coals for immediate ignition or a slow smoulder on the fringe?

Planning my routine poses intense mental challenges. Do I commit to an easy ‘Lay Across’ move, or go for an ‘End-over Flip with Adjoining 90 Degree Unburned Rotation,’ which has a higher degree of difficulty? Artistry is involved here; only skilled woodsmen will recognize the subtleties displayed by a fellow practitioner.

Between long blinks I also analyze the ‘Available Wood to Current Flame’ ratio, deciding on the optimal size and placement of the next piece of fuel. Failure to maintain a good crisscross arrangement while conflagrating means less than ideal coals for smore production or marshmallow/wiener roasting.

The best location for all this planning and activity is a scoliosis-inducing canvas chair. These work wonderfully in that as your front side gets warmed by the flames (‘broiling’ we call it), your back side gets progressively colder as the sun goes down. This is known as Bi-polar Thermalosity, which is easily treated with liquid medications.

To accomplish all of this, you need a good stick.

As important as a TV remote control, and reminiscent of one from an occupational standpoint, the fire stick should be about an inch in diameter, and approximately three feet long. Anything longer becomes unwieldy for more daring moves. Anything shorter and you start losing hand and arm hair, which smells even worse than the smoke-blackened, coughing wretch to whom the hair once belonged.

Deft stick-handling, as any hockey player will tell you, takes years of practice and what are called ‘soft hands’. A true Master has no wasted motion. His stick moves gracefully, the burning material handled with elegant precision, its red-hot tip smoking as it is drawn from the flames to sky-write the Masters name with beautiful penmanship. Thrusting the red hot tip of a burning hockey stick into another player usually results in a two minute cauterizing penalty and is frowned upon.

No visible smoke from a fire is the goal – the sign of a true Master of his craft. No smoke means the fire is burning efficiently and whoever is managing it is knowledgeable and trustworthy – truly deserving of another beer please Honey.

Fuel additives also have to be taken into account by the Wilderness Professional. Used Kleenex are most common (‘Boiling Boogers’ is the title of my next romance novel, in fact), but bits of bark, dropped marshmallows, or various food wrappings also directly affect flame and coal production.

Yes, you may think nothing is going on up there behind those vacant, staring (or closed) eyes. You think wrong my friend. Very wrong.

“Dad! Wake up! Your wiener just fell into the fire!”

Back to work…

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