The temperature was dropping, the clouds promised more rain and it was good to see a fire blazing in the distance.
Through the huddle of bodies we could see as the flames leapt high, pops setting sparks adrift on the wet breeze. Approaching the gathering, we saw faces new and familiar in the group huddled around – or three-fourths of the way around, I should say, because the fire was built at the very foot of a sharp incline. The slope wasn’t too steep to climb but it was too steep to just stand on, and the fire’s coals sat in the crux of the angle it made with the flat campground below, so you couldn’t sit against it, either.
“Why did y’all build the campfire right here where folks couldn’t stand all the way around?” one of the shy members of our group demanded.
“Because this is where it’s always been,” came the answer from a face that never turned away from the flame, and who can argue with logic like that?
A downpour the night before had left the woods and all the wood in them soaked, which eliminated the reasonable possibility of building our own fire, a questionable move at best, considering our arrival meant these guys would be sharing ground they’d already been hunting with more hunters. We should at least pretend to be social, we thought.
A time or two as we stood in the second, and sometimes third, row of fire spectators, I pondered trying the slope but, considering my aptitude for clumsiness, vetoed the notion. Hunting camps are nickname factories and the best come from the first notable impression a new guest makes.
As I looked at the slope above the fire I couldn’t help remembering the old Daniel Boone television series that starred Fess Parker. The show was a weekly TV version of a B Western movie and, any time a fistfight broke out with a campfire in sight, the two combatants eventually rolled through the coals, eliciting a hearty yowl from one or the other if not both. You might think a frontiersman could go a lifetime without rolling through a campfire while locked in mortal combat, but Fess Parker never made it more than 20 minutes without that very scenario coming to pass. I didn’t want my first notable impression to be a one-man reenactment of the same.
Nor did I want to spark a full reenactment of fight and all either because, by this time, one of the campers, who appeared to have been present since the site’s founding, was using the bank of coals to cook his supper.
There may be a hunting camp act more unwelcome than having a muddy, size 14 boot suddenly mashed into the smoked sausage you’re heating in a skillet while its mate kicks your simmering can of pork and beans into your face, but I’m pressed just now to think what it might be.
They say you should learn something from every hunting trip. Top lesson from this one: add a dozen sticks of dry firewood and a starter log to the packing list.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.