July 09, 2007
At my parents' camp, we've piled a big circle of stones near the two picnic tables that stand in the sheltered spot behind my parents' tiny cabin. Even in the middle of the day, when no fire is burning, you can find family members gathered around the firepit. Mid-morning on a sunny day, they'll sit near the rocks to fight over sections of the newspaper that Blond Brother-in-law will bring back from town. My nieces will be on the bench, braiding each other's hair, and my father and brother will pull lawn chairs up to play clarinet and guitar. Since the firepit is located in the deep shade of the oak trees, the fair-skinned members of the family will stop there to apply sunscreen to every part of their bodies before venturing out into the sunlight for a swim or sail.
Of course, on a cold rainy day or in the evening after dark, the warmth and light of a crackling fire draws the whole family, who push and shove each other's chairs until the circle at the fire becomes big enough to hold everyone. We seem always to have more people than lawn chairs, and certain family members can be pretty territorial about their chairs. The folding chairs are the preferred seating, of course, while the wooden picnic table bench ends up accommodating the overflow crowd.
The traditional games around the fire include Twenty Questions and the music game in which one person yells out a word, and each team has to sing at least eight words of a song that includes that word. More often than not, though, the games dissolve into lazy conversations. The crackling, snapping sound of the fire fills the spaces between words while flames light the face of anyone who leans forward to make a point or ask a question. As the night gets late, family members drift away from the fire to get snacks or put on long pants or brush their teeth, returning and then leaving again, the crowd eventually getting smaller as tired bodies slip into tents or cabins for the night.
For a family who likes to camp, we are not a well-equipped bunch, and we usually have one flashlight for twenty or so people. Most of the time, we just walk around in the dark, relying on night vision and moonlight to guide our steps. But none of the kids – well, few of the adults either – want to venture into the dark outhouse without a flashlight so just before bedtime, there's always a search for flashlights that leads inevitably to someone begging a flashlight off the one person who can be relied upon to have one – my mother.
It is easy to find your way around at night without a flashlight if it's a place you know well; the worst spot to walk through is the area right near the firepit, because the brightness of the fire makes everything around it disappear into darkness. This year, my parents piled some old stumps near the fire, to be burned or used as seats. The problem is that everyone kept forgetting the stumps and would stride confidently across what used to be an open space, only to come crashing down when their shins hit the stumps. In the morning, we'd sit at the campfire and compare bruises. When we began burning the stumps, it felt a bit like revenge.
Posted by jo(e)