What is it about fires? Why can we gaze endlessly into dying embers and speak truths or share dreams with the people we’re sitting next to, with little sense of time? Fires are totally mesmerizing. Why else would Richard Nixon have lit a fire in the White House in D.C.’s sweltering August heat the night before resigning? What’s roasting marshmallows on a camping trip all about if not finding a way for kids to safely engage with this fascination—initiates as both fledgling fire tenders and cooks.
I love everything about a real wood fire: gathering tinder; the one match challenge; smelling the resiny odors; hearing the cracks and snaps of burning logs; feeling the warmth from the slightest flame, an immediate antidote to the chill creeping in as the afternoon light fails. The smallest curl of smoke exiting a chimney announces that civilization is staked out here. People leap to call someone like me a pyro, as in a pyromaniac, which implies aberrant behavior, someone akin to an arsonist. On the contrary, I believe that part of our humanity is to love the magical transformation of the forest into heat and light. It’s an alternate sun, an earthbound source of warmth and light. Call me a pyrophile.
Most of all, I love the taste of the fire in my food and the perfect dry roast obtained from fireplace cooking that no designer oven can ever offer. My first self-cooked meals were prepared on camping trips over an open fire. Those delicious meals—made even more delicious after hiking all day—had the added bonus of being prepared without the modern conveniences of a gas stove or a refrigerator and primed me for more culinary explorations.