The Campfire – Eighty Years Ago

So, recently I was researching some old camping information on the Internet and ran across a reference to a public domain book called The book of Camp-Lore and Woodcraft.  It was written in 1930 by Dan Bear, Founder of the First Boy Scouts Society.  After reading a few excerpts, I was delighted to see how much of this work was still relevant to today’s campers and that the sentiment about camping in general has changed very little in the past eighty or ninety years.  The following is from Chapter 4 of the book.    If you, like me, find this interesting, you can read the full book at Project Gutenberg.

HOW TO LAY A GOOD COOKING FIRE

No matter where the old camper may be, no matter how long a time may have elapsed since last he slept in the open, no matter how high or low a social or official position he may now occupy, it takes but one whiff of the smoke of an open fire, or one whiff of the aroma of frying bacon, to send him back again to the lone trail. In imagination he will once more be hovering over his little camp-fire in the desert, under the shade of the gloomy pines, mid the snows of Alaska, in the slide rock of the Rockies or mid the pitch pines of the Alleghenies, as the case may be.

That faint hint in the air of burning firewood or the delicious odor of the bacon, for the moment, will not only wipe from his vision his desk, his papers and his office furniture, but also all the artificialities of life. Even the clicking of the typewriter will turn into the sound of clicking hoofs, the streets will become canyons, and the noise of traffic the roar of the mountain torrent!

There is no use talking about it, there is no use arguing about it, there is witchcraft in the smell of the open fire, and all the mysteries and magic of the Arabian Nights dwell in the odor of frying bacon.

Some years ago Mr. Arthur Rice, the Secretary of the Camp-fire Club of America, and Patrick Cleary, a half-breed Indian, with the author, became temporarily separated from their party in the Northern wilds. They found themselves on a lonely wilderness lake surrounded by picture mountains, and dotted with tall rocky islands covered with Christmas trees, giving the whole landscape the appearance[56] of the scenery one sometimes sees painted on drop-curtains for the theatre. Everything in sight was grand, everything was beautiful, everything was built on a generous scale, everything was big, not forgetting the voyagers’ appetites!

Unfortunately the provisions were in the missing canoe; diligent search, however, in the bottom of Patrick Cleary’s ditty bag disclosed three small, hard, rounded lumps, which weeks before might have been bread; also a handful of tea mixed with smoking tobacco, and that was all! There was no salt, no butter, no pepper, no sugar, no meat, no knives, no forks, no spoons, no cups, no plates, no saucers and no cooking utensils; the party had nothing but a few stone-like lumps of bread and the weird mixture of tea and tobacco with which to appease their big appetites. But in the lake the trout were jumping, and it was not long before the hungry men had secured a fine string of spotted beauties to add to their menu.

Under the roots of a big spruce tree, at the bottom of a cliff on the edge of the lake, a fountain of cold crystal water spouted from the mossy ground. Near this they built a fire while Mr. Rice fashioned a little box of birch bark, filled it with water and placed it over the hot embers by resting the ends of the box on fire-dogs of green wood. Into the water in the birch bark vessel was dumped the tea (and—also tobacco)!

To the amazement and delight of the Indian half-breed, the tea was soon boiling. Meanwhile the half-breed toasted some trout until the fish were black, this being done so that the charcoal or burnt skins might give a flavor to the fish, and in a measure compensate for the lack of salt. The hunks of bread were burned until they were black, not for flavor this time, but in order that the bread might be brittle enough to allow a man to bite into it with no danger of breaking his teeth in the attempt.

To-day it seems to the author that that banquet on that lonely lake, miles from the nearest living human being, was more delicious and more satisfying than any of the feasts of Belshazzar he has since attended in the wonder city of New York.

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