This is not a DIY lesson in getting more BTU's out of less wood. This is metaphor. This is about presence, self-reflection, deepening relationships, and a sense of connection with the animate world, rather than the simple utility of fire.
Before you build your next campfire, think about making a small one that demands care and presence, rather than dosing a pile of logs in gasoline and ripping the match off your pants zipper. The following will explain why you might like to try it this way.
Fire has always been an important and transformative part of the human experience. And most of us can recall the sense of enchantment that washed over us as children--or even now-- when gazing into a fire. The flicker of flames pulling us into a dream-like state. The ephemeral nature of fire provides a canvas for our imagination to wander, as the crackling embers tell stories and illuminate visions. Within the intimate space of a small fire, we are free to explore our inner landscapes and engage in a form of dreaming.
Psychologist Mary Watkins (2012) suggests that the act of "dreaming into the flames" enables us to access a deeper level of self-reflection and understanding. By immersing ourselves in the hypnotic dance of the fire, we can tap into our subconscious and reconnect with the natural rhythms and cycles of life. Through this process, we may find inspiration, healing, and a renewed sense of purpose in our ecological endeavors. A sort-of ecopsychological (1) dreaming.
Another defining quality of these small fires is their ability to create a space for interpersonal connection. As we gather around a fire, faces illuminated by the dancing flames, a sense of communion and closeness emerges. It's a ritual sought and practiced for countless generations. The intimate nature of these fires has been explored by ecopsychologists, who emphasize the psychological benefits of communal fire experiences.
For instance, psychologist John Davis (1998) notes that gathering around a fire creates a space where stories are shared, bonds are strengthened, and a sense of unity with both nature and fellow humans is nurtured. It is within this shared space that individuals find solace, support, and a deepening appreciation for the natural world.
Recently a friend of mine and I drove out through a webbed network of logging roads in the coastal mountains of Oregon. As we got up to the snow line at around 2500 feet, we stopped to build a fire and make some tea. My friend had been in the habit of carrying a sealed 5-gallon bucket in the back of his truck that contained all of the necessary components to quickly build a small fire. The wood was precut to various sizes to get a fire started, and there was a ball of wax-covered wood chips to make lighting the logs easy.
As the fire grew and we sipped our tea, I was amazed at how quickly our conversation turned to some of the most intimate and important topics we could have shared. The kinds of things that men in my world only share in acute moments of enormous pain. But the context we found ourselves in -- an almost ceremonial context -- was created and guided by the ritual of tending this small fire in the snow-covered mountains, with no cell service-- no distractions. I am so thankful for that experience, and have reverence for fire's capacity to guide us.
So, beyond their utilitarian purpose, small fires possess a remarkable capacity to warm us on multiple levels. The intimate setting they create fosters a sense of community and belonging, while their visual dance sparks our imagination and deepens our connection with nature. In the context of ecopsychology, small fires hold immense value, nurturing our well-being and rekindling our ecological consciousness.
As we continue to navigate a rapidly changing, technologically overwhelming world, let us not pass up the transformative ritual of tending a small campfire. By embracing its warmth and engaging in its subtle yet profound qualities, we can forge deeper relationships with both ourselves and the natural world.
1) Ecopsychology is a field of study that explores the interconnections between human psychology and the natural world, emphasizing the reciprocal relationship between the well-being of individuals and the health of the environment. It examines the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of human-nature interactions, aiming to promote ecological consciousness, sustainability, and the restoration of our relationship with the Earth (Roszak, Gomes, & Kanner, 1995).
Davis, J. M. (1998). The Fire: A Mythic Ecopsychology. Ecopsychology, 1(2), 81-85.
Roszak, T., Gomes, M. E., & Kanner, A. D. (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Sierra Club Books.
Watkins, M. (2012). Ecopsychology and the Inner World: An Introduction. Ecopsychology, 4(2), 85-88.