Last weekend, in the midst of yet another lockdown here in Ontario, as the last rays of the golden sun filtered through the trees, we lit a campfire on our property. We are fortunate enough to be able to do this, we have the space and the firewood to do so.
A campfire is special. This I am told and this I have known. The feeling of the warmth of the flickering flames washing our faces, contrasted by the emerging chill of the settling night air is something that you can’t experience elsewhere.
But a campfire is more than this. It is a place where people come together, unencumbered by the distractions of the day. It is a place where one can let go of the memory of what has happened, or the thoughts of what is to come, and just be there.
Here, we work collectively: gathering the kindling, arranging seating, organising the requisite marshmallows and drinks, feeding the fire to give life to the flames that dance before us. We may all be doing different things, but these all integrate into a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
There is a temptation, as an adult, to use the play of children around a campfire to help them learn “things”. The crackling sound of burning cedar leaves can be explained by the effects of heating the gasses captured by the plant, the effect of stoking or fanning the fire can give rise to a lesson on the necessity of oxygen for objects to burn. However, this is not the time for this. This is a time for us to delight in the child that resides in ourselves, to join children in the laugh and giggles of play. This is the time for us to notice the joy that play can bring.
And, it is more than that. Once the flames have settled and all are seated, once night has fallen and we are all basked in the subtle titian glow of that which we have gathered around, it is time for voices to take their place. It is here where, if we listen closely, we learn.
This is a place of comfort, where we can allow ourselves to speak, whether it is through yarns, or games, or song, or other dialogue. This is a place where we find the peace and freedom to engage and, by doing so, contribute to something communal. We like to think, in our world, that we know things, that there is a commonality of knowledge. Yet, as individuals devoid of artefacts, as people with different experiences and different stories, we hold fragments of what is to be known. It is not until we listen to each other that we become aware of who the other might be and what they hold.
We played a very simple oral game, yet as I listened to the words that others spoke, I became aware of patterns that kept appearing. Different patterns. We did not all see the world in the same way, we did not associate with the world in the same way. From this I could learn of them, and of myself. I could look for commonalities and differences and perhaps see something that I hadn’t seen before.
Why did you associate the colour blue with a pine tree? I thought to myself of one response that was given in the game. What am I missing here?
Later, once the flames had died and the embers settled for the night and all were getting ready for the day’s rest, I asked the child that spoke that word that same question.
Why did you associate the colour blue with a pine tree?
Because every time I look at that pine tree over there I see the sky beyond and it is beautiful when the sky is blue, he responded without hesitation.
This was something that I had not ever considered, even though I have looked at that tree and the blue sky backdrop many, many times.
Yes, the campfire is a special place.