Sipping my coffee on a quiet comfortable morning, and I am musing at lessons learned on other days, in other moments. I am thinking about the crackling fire in the fireplace that kept me smiling much of the weekend. I am thinking about a camping trip last March in which I experienced a real moment of dread and anxiety – because I wasn’t easily able to make a fire. I am thinking about the distance I have traveled between those events, and what it has taken to grow from one to the other.

I wasn't as prepared as I felt.

I wasn’t as prepared as I felt.

In March, I had planned a camping trip of 4 days to gear-test new gear, and find out whether I was up to colder weather camping (newsflash: it’s not my preference to camp if low temperatures are below 45 – it’s an important planning detail). I headed for the trees thinking I had everything I needed. Truthfully, the lack of coffee was what kicked my ass emotionally (I’d also overlooked tea), and looking back it was a huge opportunity to overcome that limitation, but the headache spoke louder than reason. I had also not packed my bee sting kit, thinking that the weather was not yet ‘bee weather’. Being wrong about that was a safety issue, and that was the deciding factor to ‘call it’ only two days in and return home. My traveling partner retrieved me from the forest, and although he genially teased me just a bit about my lack of readiness, we both knew that was why I went out there for that particular trip; I’m planning much longer ones, solo, more remote – and on those occasions, it’s pretty urgent that obvious mistakes not be the mistakes I am making when I am too far from home to call for a ride. But this is simply some context on the experience; the lack of coffee may not have kicked my ass if I had been easily able to make fire from on-hand resources, no cheats.

Light without heat won't cook dinner.

Light without heat won’t boil water.

I camp fairly light, and I make sure I have flint and emergency fire-starting gear, but generally rely on Esbits for quick fuel to boil water. Doing so let’s me travel fairly light, and doesn’t place a requirement on me to actually build a fire and burn wood traveling through forests, or in places where a fire is a bad idea. It had been so long since I actually made a wood fire I had entirely lost those skills – and was wandering around in the world unaware of that (far more important than the loss of skill was the fact that I was unaware of the short-coming). It was an embarrassing discovery. I had brought along an alcohol stove, another common hiker/camper favorite, but one I wasn’t so familiar with using and didn’t have a lifetime (any time) of personal experience; my use of fuel was inefficient, even wasteful, and I didn’t bring enough fuel to account for that. I used up my fuel figuring things out (and setting my cook pot handle on fire – don’t ask). To prevent myself from ‘falling back on favorites’ on this particular trip I hadn’t packed as many Esbits –  and I “knew” I had enough alcohol. (I was wrong.) These sorts of things add up to potentially life-threatening fails under extreme circumstances, and it was wrecking my nerves even after I returned home. (I thought I could count on myself for fire for crying out loud!) I had some work to do. There would be verbs involved.

No skill required - yet.

No skill required – yet.

Over the winter holidays, I enjoyed a number of fires in the fireplace, and have continued to do so. Each new fire in the fireplace became an adventure, a learning experience, and part of a progression – the first one was just a Duraflame log, lit and enjoyed for a couple of hours (and an opportunity figure out the flue with confidence). Each successive fire has been more reliant on skill, until this past weekend I started a lovely warm fire without cheating it at all – lit with a lighter meant for lighting fires, but aside from that nothing made it effortless, and success was not assured. I learn from each stumble, each mistake, each new transition toward being more fully reliant on the basics (wood, oxygen, and spark or flame to begin it). This weekend I explored a variety of tweaks on placement of wood on the grate, size of kindling, timing of putting heavier wood on the fire, and had quite a lot of fun with the experience, and ending each day with a bed of coals banked and ready to begin again.

The cozy warmth of a fire built with purpose and skill.

The cozy warmth of a fire built with purpose and skill.

In between my March camping, and my lovely warm fire this past weekend there has been quite a lot of study, and some practice (with more practice yet to come – because a fire in the fireplace is not 100% analogous to making a fire in the cold, or the rain, or the wind, and there is much more to learn about fire, about readiness, and about self-sufficiency and interdependence). I’ll probably continue to hike and camp relying on what works best (and most reliably) for me, and what feels most comfortable, but I’ll be heading to the trees far more prepared to take care of me when circumstances don’t allow for what feels most comfortable, and more aware of what I may really need to enjoy the experience.

Taking care of me has a lot of verbs... and some nice perks. :-)

Taking care of me has a lot of verbs… and some nice perks. 🙂

Today is a good day to be a student of life and love, open to new understanding. Today is a good day to put aside assumptions, and ask clarifying questions. Today is a good day to look suffering in the face with a mind open to understanding what my needs really are. It’s a journey worth taking. 🙂