How Small Fires Burn Brighter: Cultivating presence and deepening relationships

This is not a DIY lesson in getting more BTU's out of less wood. This is about sinking into a deepened state of self reflection and connection.

Before you build your next campfire, think about making a small one that demands care, rather than dosing a pile of logs in gasoline and ripping the match off your pants zipper. Here's why:

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. This timeless, cross-cultural quality of fire provides a canvas for our imagination to wander. 

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 taking the time to be present with an intimate 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. Described as a sort-of ecopsychological (1) dreaming.

Redroot Blades. Small campfire in the woods. Drinking yerba mate. gerber camp knife and folding saw.

Another defining quality of these small fires is their ability to create a space for interpersonal connection-- a unifying force. As we gather around a fire, faces illuminated by the dancing flames, a sense of communion and closeness emerges. It has been a fundamental and formative human experience for countless generations. The intimate nature of these fires has been explored by ecopsychologists, who emphasize the psychological benefits of communal fire. 

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.

Making a fire in the snow. Small fires in the woods. Redroot Blades. Camp knives. Knives for making campfires.

I have experienced these qualities first hand. 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 transformation. But the context we found ourselves in -- an almost ceremonial context -- was held naturally by tending this small fire in the snow-covered mountains, with no cell service, and no distractions. 

So, beyond a fire's utilitarian purpose, small fires possess a remarkable capacity to warm us on multiple levels: The intimate setting they create can foster a sense of groundedness, contentment, and connectedness with one's self and the others. 


------ Notes:

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).

------ References:

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.


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