Controlling Fire

What’s the fascination with fire as human beings? It keeps us warm, it helps cook our food and gives us a place to build a community around. The Wikipedia explanation is: “the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light and various reaction products.” Is this what’s on your mind when you stare into a flame? I feel like there is something almost more barbaric to it. When I go camping, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Do I have enough wood for a fire? In my mind, this is what goes hand and hand with camping. That feeling of gathering materials together, placing the wood perfectly so that it burns right away and that initial start of the fire that takes off. What a great feeling?! It’s a sense of accomplishment as you watch the wood burn. It’s almost mesmerizing. Stare off into the flames and you’re staring off into your soul. It’s a quick trip into who you are and what you can accomplish. A flame can start within your heart and burn intense, but try to contain this fire and it can lead to a dangerous situation.

As a child, I remember taking so much joy in the time we spent around a fire. We lived in a small town where we had the opportunity to create a bonfire on any given night with no issues. There was no such thing as a burn ban as Michigan had a decent amount of humidity at all times. A threat of a large spread fire was extremely small. We would gather wood and then as a family join together and sit around and talk. It was a social event. As we got older and depending on the amount of people over, the fires varied in size along with the possibility of food being cooked over it. My father even had a steel cylinder contraption that he created to place butter into. We would then dunk our corn and place a plethora of salt after it soaked. Later on we even found the glory of hollow logs in the forest. Unique logs in nature that somehow become hollowed out over time. Logs that you could place over a bed of coals and the flame would shoot out to the top. It was absolute joy any night we were able to join for a campfire. This was my history of a fascination with fire. Not only was it social, it often felt tranquil late in the night with only a few people remaining. Staring into the flame like people now stare at a television for hours.

What is with this tranquil feeling we receive when staring at a flame? Think of the use of fire during meditation. Meditation can have such a positive impact on our stress levels. Staring into a fire gives a calm feeling. That’s why there are different forms of fire meditation. Also as a beginner with meditation, it’s often easier to get started by staring at something to keep your mind focused in the now. Our minds are constantly wandering, which often leads to some type of stress. Feelings of what if this happens or should I have made that decision in my life? Or even more stressful, why did that person treat me the way they did? Our minds sadly can be an amazingly integral part to the learning process, but also detrimental if we overthink. Fire helps keep your attention.

In pop culture, fire becomes such an important reference. Jim Morrison sings, “Come on baby light my fire!” What does he mean by it? It’s interesting that he’s almost talking about fire as a somewhat ravage situation. Not so much calming, but a kindle in the heart that is just waiting to be lit. A feeling of desire that maybe had never been had before. When the fire is lit, it rages and takes on such a different form of mentality. It’s so interesting that on one form of the thought, fire is used to create calm and relaxation with people. Others use it in an opposite light. You can almost put fire on the same spectrum of the yin and the yang. Light versus dark, good versus evil or the many different contexts they use in Taoism. Many references to fire, including the Christian thought of fire as the devils playground. A place in hell will leave you surrounded with a fiery end to life.

In nature, fire can play both ends of the spectrum. The redwoods are some of the largest living things in the world. They can grow close to 300 feet in the air. Their roots entwine within other redwood trees for support and can grow out close to 100 feet below the surface. If you’ve ever seen a redwood tree fallen on the ground, you can truly experience how large these root systems can be. They have been around before us and will be around long after us. Now think about how fire comes into play with these. Their bark has very little resin so it makes the tree almost fire resistant. The interesting fact is that redwood trees actually need fire to reproduce. Fire actually opens the hard cones of the redwoods and allows the seeds to germinate. Talk about come on baby light my fire right?!

Our last road trip started with my sense of passion for fire. A unique feeling when you are able to contain something so powerful. We started our way up the California coast into the redwoods and camped out close to the redwood national park. It was a perfect place to hone in and relax the mind. As we made our way into our campsite, it was the the first thing I did. I positioned the wood in the perfect way that I had been taught as a child. Form almost a teepee of sort with the wood and then start a small kindle of wood underneath, which will then spread up through the logs and create a perfect contained fire. It did just that. As I watched the fire with a sense of accomplishment, I stared at it in a meditative state that gave me that sense of calm. We cooked corn on the fire that night and relaxed before heading to bed for the evening. It was a perfect start to our vacation. 

As we moved onto our next stop in Crater Lake National Park, we had another fire. With the fire burning at the campsite, we were able to look up at the stars that evening. The stars shine so bright while away from the city lights. We went to bed for the evening. I put water on our fire as we were about to drive away and head out onto the road. As a fellow camper and her child walked past on the road, we heard the small child say that we have an unattended fire. The mother then came to us and reiterated the importance of putting the fire out that we had. I know of the situation that can occur with a fire that is still lit. A fire somehow can always find its way back into a blaze if you are not careful. Second guessing ourselves, we went back around and poured even more water onto the flame. Somehow fires are extremely resilient and always find a way to start up after you think they have gone out. Placing water again on the fire, we were glad that we did. Always play it safe, especially with how hot and dry the surrounding area had been. 

This became real as we made our way down to our campsite in the Shasta Trinity forest area. Passing by the behemoth Mount Shasta, we started to see a significant amount of smoke coming from the hills. A fire had broken out on Friday. As we had learned later on, the firefighters had made the same mistake that we might have made previously. They left on Friday, thinking that they had accomplished a containment of the fire in the hills. The fire chief apologized to the town later on for his mistake. The fire didn’t stop, it didn’t contain and it wasn’t done yet. A fire is unpredictable and doesn’t want to be contained. It wants to rage on. Traveling to our campsite that evening we saw the travesty occur. Cars stopped on both sides of the road, onlookers watching as the firefighters tried their hardest to gain control of an uncontrollable scenario. They would drop massive mounds of water from above, but the fire continued. Setting barriers in case the fire became air bound. The tough thing is that no matter what we learn as human beings, all of the advancements that we make and knowledge we gain, we still cannot control Mother Nature. It can take lives and property and make us feel so small in the world. It makes us truly believe that maybe we can’t control anything? 

The fire continues on as we speak, as the fire has only been close to 20% contained in the area. Jumping from 1,300 to 13,000 acres. The devastation is imminent. Our conversation with the host of our campsite previously ran in my mind. On the initial approach to the area, we asked if it was still ok for us to camp at our site. His response was that the fire was still far away and it would take days to get to the area. Our later conversation had the host saying that the fire had jumped because of the wind and they were evacuating their home. What a difference only a couple of hours can make when a fire wishes to not be contained. 5 hours between conversations with this person and it became night and day. What if the fire had not jumped until later in the evening? What if we were sleeping while it had jumped? Where would we go and what would we do if it got close? Our minds wandered with the what ifs of this scenario. It doesn’t really hit until it hits close to home right? 

This could ultimately be our passion behind fire. It’s unpredictable and unique. Yes it gives us warmth at times, creates a meeting place for society and helps in our culinary exploration, but maybe it’s deeper than that. Our fascination could really just be based on trying to control something that is uncontrollable. We make our campfire and the pit around it, but that is just us trying to contain something that doesn’t want to be contained. A fire wants to expand and create more of itself. Were we ever really made to harness this amazing tool? Remember that just as much as it can do for us on a daily basis, it can take it all away in such a swift act. Leaving us to get back out there and start all over again. Nature will constantly rebuild itself after devastation, but it always takes human beings more time to get back to normalcy. Come on baby light my fire? Sure, only if you’re willing to come to terms with the fact that control is not possible. Our thoughts are with those that are doing their best to contain the uncontrollable at the moment. Those effected by the consequences of when we decide that fire can be something we can harness. My fascination for fire is still alive and burning within me, yet I have a newfound respect. A respect for this unique force that likes to walk a line between a sense of warmth and tranquility, and a cause of devastation and agony.

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I've lived several places in the United States. Born in Michigan, lived several years of my life in Florida and currently in California. I was enticed with travel from an early age. I've traveled around most states in the US and have ventured across Europe. As my love of travel continues, my passion grows deeper with learning about new cultures and what makes them unique. Travel with me as I gather my thoughts on travel and experience the world through my lens.

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