Love and Firebuilding

Burning. Like Love.I’ve been working at camps for quite some time now, and, predictably, I’ve constructed quite an impressive number of campfires. My most recent, and final, fire for the season got me thinking about love. Here’s how.

I began my fire-building quest in the manager’s office of the camp. There, in the recycling pile, I found a box full of smaller boxes, as well as much useless paperwork (isn’t it all?). Cardboard and paper burn really, really well, in case you weren’t aware. If you haven’t ever burned a cardboard box before, I highly recommend it. One minute of great entertainment.

I gathered these, my excellent prizes, to use as tinder, and walked through the night to the campfire site.

After setting the flammable box of flammables down in the center of the fire pit, I made my way to the woodshed. Logs of all sizes overflow out of the shed and are scattered on the ground all around it, but I know that the logs outside of the shed have been exposed to rain, frost, and even snow in the past two weeks, and that the best logs to use will be the ones actually in the shed. I climb up on top of the logs on the ground, and wiggle a few pieces of wood free from the top of the pile that is protected from the elements, then toss them toward the fire pit.

The logs are large, and make great firewood, but I still need kindling, wood that is bigger than the boxes and paper, but not as big as the logs. I search the forested area behind the woodshed, and find a couple armloads of sticks that will do the trick. Some may be damp, but the burning cardboard should hopefully dry them out enough to allow them to ignite.

Back at the fire pit, I arrange the box of boxes and paper in the center, and take a few sheets of the paper out and set them aside. I lean the sticks I’ve gathered against the box, surrounding it, forming a tee-pee structure, then rest the logs upright against the sticks.

I take a small matchbook out of my pocket. At the beginning of the season, we often joked about how many matches we could use and still claim we’d built a one-match fire. Tonight, I knew exactly how many it would take.

Just one.

I roll one of the sheets of paper I’ve set aside into a long cone, and strike a match. I light one end of the cone, and now have a small torch, which I guide past the logs and sticks to the base of the box in the center. The box catches, and I shove the cone deeper in, rolling another sheet of paper quickly and lighting the end of it with the flaming box. I move to the other side of the fire, and ignite the other side of the box as well.

The fire is large and bright, and lights up the benches around the fire pit with an orange-yellow glow. I know that this is temporary; hopefully it is enough to dry out those possibly-damp sticks. I watch the sticks, and am satisfied when indeed, they do ignite.

Now, it is only a matter of time. The sticks, the kindling, burn and burn. Slowly, the heat from the boxes and paper and sticks causes the large logs to catch. As the box, paper, and sticks are consumed by the fire, the large logs fall onto one another in the center, overlapping over one another on top of a glowing pile of embers, just like you see in fake fireplaces and fire pits. Unlike in fake fire pits, the collapse tosses up a smattering of real, red-orange embers, which float up and fade out among the stars in the night sky.

I use a long stick to push the logs closer to the center, and then take a seat and admire the fire. The flames lick high, blue at their base. The red embers glow and fade and shift location underneath the logs. The heat given off by the fire is so warm that it forces me to back up a bit. I know that eventually, I will have to gather more logs to feed it if I want the fire to last through our singing and dancing late into the evening.

I remember an analogy someone once shared with me: love is like the flame on a candle – touching your candle’s flame to another candle will light the second candle without sacrificing your own flame or making it smaller. So it is with love; you can light many candles, and each can have its own, strong flame, without your own becoming weaker.

Lots of love happening here

I looked at the flames before me, and I thought about this analogy, and I thought about love.

Building a relationship is like building a fire, whether it is monogamous or not. Sometimes, if you’re lucky like I was that particular night, you find that you have great materials for fire/relationship-building. Other times, there is no box of boxes or piles of paperwork. Sometimes, all you’ve got is damp pine needles and leaves, ripped from the trees in the last rainy (tearful?) downpour. But, when a fire is absolutely necessary, and when love is absolutely necessary (as it always is), you take what you have and you build, damnit.

As with a relationship, you start with the small stuff. Put that at the center of your relationship, and build outward, leaning the bigger stuff on the smaller stuff. Of course, if you lean stuff that is too big, or lean too much stuff on one side, you will collapse the whole thing. Balance is key in fire-building and relationships. Only put on what the existing structure can handle, and don’t pile on the big issues when there are still so many small issues to work out before you even get there. Some of the small stuff might not be ideal. Perhaps it’s damp, or there’s not enough of it. Work with what you’ve got; love and fire can always find a way, if you nurture it right.

Don’t light it until it’s ready. Seriously. If you light the small stuff before the big stuff is on top, the big stuff might not get hot enough quickly enough to catch before the small stuff burns out. Don’t burn your relationships out on the small stuff; build them, if you want them. Of course, if you want to burn through the small stuff, and just have a hot, intense, short fire, by all means, throw that stuff in a cardboard box, douse it with lighter fluid, and burn away!

As with anything, experience helps. The reason my one-match fire worked was because I’d been building fires for months. I got good at it. I knew which sticks and logs to use, and how much to use. This doesn’t mean to say that you should purposefully take on multiple relationships so that you can get good at them (although perhaps some of you should jump into that particular fire), just don’t be disappointed when you can’t ignite things with just one match; I certainly couldn’t at first. It took time to get there. If it doesn’t light at first, try, try again. Look for help. That cone trick I used I learned from watching someone else do it. Keep your eyes, and your mind, open.


Take time to admire what you’ve done. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The initial hot glow of the burning tinder in the center is intense, and heats up the bigger stuff to ignite, just as the first few weeks and perhaps months of a relationship burn hot and heavy, warming things up for later when the bigger stuff comes into play. The small stuff eventually does burn out; that’s why the big stuff is important. As you watch, you will see the inevitable happen: the collapse.

I do think that every long-term relationship experiences at least one collapse. It’s that event, or realization, or disagreement, where the structure shudders and shifts, and you worry that the flaming passion will lose its foothold and be lost. Fear not; if you built your fire right, that flame will hold. Even in the worst case scenario, your small stuff that burned in the bottom, at the center, the core, will still be red-hot embers, and you can literally breathe life back into them, and ignite the still-warm logs.

With good preparation, most relationships, and most fires, are able to be rescued if needed.

With all fires, and all relationships, the only way to keep it going, of course, is to keep feeding it fuel. Keep putting those big logs on. Sure, the little things count, and will contribute to the fire, but if you want to keep the fire going with little things, you’ll have to feed it constantly. If you want to keep the fire going long-term without killing yourself and running out of resources, you’re going to need to invest some big ol’ hunks of wood into it.

A fire can last as long as you can keep that up. Outside forces may make you stop, and when you do, the fire will likely stop, or spread into something uncontrollable and destructive. You can get hurt building and maintaining fires. You can also hurt others; those are the risks we accept with them and with relationships. But, in exchange for that risk, we gain warmth, light, beauty, and something to sing and dance about…at least at camp.

Leave a comment


  1. NormalDeviations

     /  December 11, 2012

    Thanks for that – I believe the analogy is a great one. Think of the life span of a gasoline fire equating to a torrid, whirlwind romance…

  2. Right along what I was thinking; the duration correlates to the effort put in. Even if you have great materials to start with, like gasoline, it’ll burn hot and wild, but not for long, unless you put the effort in to feed it something else.

  3. Kewl you should come up with that. Excnlleet!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: