Building an Environmental Awareness
It is August, so we have entered the month where I experience summer camp nostalgia. There is something about sitting beside an outdoor fire in the summer time that is simply sublime. Growing up in northern states, I learned much of what I know regarding the environment from simply being within the environment. We can find an amazing treasure of environmental principles embedded in the wisdom we share with the up-and-coming generation about how to build a fire safely.
The material absolutely required to build a good fire where I lived was birch bark. And it worked best if you managed to secure a healthy handful of the white stuff, finely broken down into slivers. The trees often helped with the process as they would tend to flake off fine pieces of bark that you could peel off of the trees. But, birch bark collecting came with many rules; the most important rule was to never peel past the white portion of the tree to turn the bark tan or (in the worst case scenario) pink. If you saw pink, you exposed the inner bark of the tree that could cause the tree to be subject to illness. But, year after year, the birch stands remained. Fire after fire, we could always find enough bark to get the fire going.
Additionally, to build a fire, you needed a range of wood types. Small, dry kindling was a must; the dry, tiny sticks on the paths all of a sudden had value. You size up the wood in the fire from the kindling to get to your main logs that will become the majority of the fire for the majority length of time. After all, once you get a fire going, it’s relatively straight-forward to “throw another log on the fire.”
Yet, in the process of building a campfire, we find a plethora of environmental lessons, particularly in environments where people do not need to build fires to survive. Campfires serve as a luxury that can scale itself down to conform to its situation. Smart strategies of gathering wood allow people to leave no trace on their environments. Even in places where people build fire after fire, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we can still practice appropriate gathering procedures that do no harm to the surrounding ecosystem. We generally do not want to make wood gathering a more onerous task than it needs to be, so we pick up on the readily available resources. Simple rules make for continued enjoyment.