“TO BUILD A FIRE”

That was a favorite short story in my schooldays, for this person who (apart from Hem) is not that fond of short stories.  In this run of gelid days, learning to make fire as did the Apaches, with Tom Brown, Tracker, who had been taught by his friend’s grandfather, Stalking Wolf, of the Oklahoma Apaches, comes sharply back to memory.

It took me any number of days to achieve this in 1983.  Every break we had from day and night tracking lectures and practices, I went off in a corner and worked with that stout stick and the woodblock into which it had to fit so perfectly.

I thought no one knew I was doing this.  I thought everyone else had already made fire.  I was not going home from Tracker School without having achieved this major skill.  Boy Scouts of ten years of age had managed it in less than a half hour…  I was then in my forties, being not at all handy with that heavy, unwieldy, essential Buck knife.

When the spark finally glowed, there was a great cheer.  Tom and all his Trackers had been standing behind me in a circle, one with a strong hand and arm coming to my aid to keep the key elements in contact in the last crucial seconds.  I admit tears…

O, yes.  After that, many people went off into corners to continue learning to make fire…

 

TO BUILD A FIRE

[for Tom Brown, Tracker,

Tracker School,  Summer 1983]

craft

with your big Buck knife

a stout stick

then work the pale woodblock

removing anything extra

 

pare

a smooth deep cone

which must exactly match

the stick’s new girth

 

kneel

upon needles and pine duff

— a hand-sized clutch

of some plant’s inner softness

near at hand

 

roll

the smoothed pine

between determined hands

faster, faster!

pay no attention

to your trembling knees

 

watch

for first white smoke

but do not stop

 

press on

until

the block glows red

 

quickly!

surround

your fiery gem

with plant fluff

careful

not to breathe too hard

 

make a whistle of your mouth

using will and skill

exhale the long breaths

waiting all these years

only for this fire

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

August 28/September 3,2004

 

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