Not Quite Normal

This entry relates to yesterday’s entry. Another main requirement of Firecrafter is to:

Plan, prepare, and conduct a campfire program.

The requirement has additional clarification:

The Scout and his Scoutmaster should select the time and place of the campfire. Not more than one candidate may conduct any activity. Before beginning this requirement, the Scout should be thoroughly trained in the skills required to complete this requirement successfully. This requirement will be graded on an equal basis with those of all other candidates. Scout will be provided a grading sheet at the beginning of their candidacy. They will be carefully judged on each of the points of the grading sheet. It is preferred that three Firecrafters grade the activity, but who, or even one will-qualified Firecrafter may do the grading.

As anyone who has attended one of these campfire programs knows, these campfires have themes. That was the first order of business. At one point, I remembered that some of my fellow scouts, the scoutmaster, and I would tinker with coming up with different songs. One of the songs had a line like: "If the world were upside down, then the sky would be green and the grass would be blue." I felt that line was appropriate to my life and my troop. My ideas were converging along the line of "Not Quite Normal." I would not describe my life as normal. I would not describe the majority of my friends as normal. It definitely seemed appropriate. I came up with some ideas for program contents including a nine part rendition of "If I Weren’t a Boy Scout" using only three people. Fire programs frequently start with the song mentioned in the previous post. There was a backwards version of which I was aware, so my program started with that version instead. Some of the scouts liked the impromptu show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" so I thought that would fit into the program. I had other ideas as well, but I do not recall them anymore. Fire programs also frequently close with what is called a scoutmaster’s minute. It is a candidate talk related to the theme of the campfire. I asked my scoutmaster to expand the upside down world song and sing, rather than say, it. In addition, the melody of the song was played on a normal acoustic guitar that was missing all but two strings. That also fit in with the theme.

As with the fire by friction set, I built the fire at the very beginning of the week. Since it had been raining, I covered the campfire with a tarp and put some rock and wood on it so it wouldn’t blow away. The fire program was set for Wednesday when my family and many other scouting families visit during the week. I prepared for the fire by removing the tarp. Strange, there was a mouse nest at the very top of the fire. I suppose it wanted out of the rain since the fire was essentially in a giant puddle from all the rain. The fire program went well. I had one of the other scouts light the fire. It never really did anything other than smoke due to the wetness. The program went fine though, for the most part that is. That mouse nest apparently had an occupant that was deeper into the fire lay. About half way through the program, a mouse comes running out of the fire. It was blocked in one way by performers so it went another way. That way was blocked by the audience. It was quite a spectacle. Above all, it certainly wasn’t normal.

The fire program finished, and I was asked to gaze into the dying fire as the evaluators graded the program. What was interesting is that I can hear pretty well if I focus on it, so although I was several yards away, I could hear what the evaluators were saying. I knew I had passed. When I was called over, I pretended I didn’t know and was told that I passed. One of the evaluators asked who the hot girl was that got asked to participate. I told him that it was my sister. The evaluator was a bit embarrassed, but it was funny. I called my sister over. It was yet another not quite normal event.

All in all, the night went well. Even the things that were not planned such as the mouse running out of the fire fit with the theme.

Making Fire

A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a friend talking about different roller coasters. As a result, I shared a story of a different thrill that I had experienced with her, and now I will share it with anyone that reads this blog.

For several years, I was actively involved in the Boy Scouts of America organization. As a scout, I attained its highest rank and went beyond by receiving three palms. I was elected into the Order of the Arrow, a fraternal organization within scouting. There was still another organization within scouting, at least in Indiana. That organization was Firecrafter. One of the interesting ranks within Firecrafter is that of Firecrafter itself. There are two noteworthy requirements. The first is:

Build a fire-by-friction, unassisted, using a set made by the candidate while in camp of natural materials (except thong) and keep the fire burning for 15 minutes.

The requirement has the additional clarification:

The fire set must be made of natural materials gathered and assembled at during the candidacy by the Scout himself. The best wood Indiana has to offer for the floorboard and spindle are red elm and cottonwood, or similar combinations. A leather thong, rope, or nylon cord may be used for the bowstring. Tinder, firewood, and lubricants for the thunderhead must also be natural materials. Suggested tinder is the inner bark of red cedar. The best lubricants are sassafras leaves and the stems of jewel weed. The fire must burn for at least 15 minutes, after which time the candidate will extinguish and clean the area. The scout must obtain the spark and build the fire himself, although advice may be given. At no time will there be double pressure, double pumping, steadying of the bow, or "Warming up" of the set to obtain a fire.

In actuality, there are several ways in which to create a fire by friction. In Indiana, the method used is a bow drill due to wetter conditions. There is an illustration of a bow drill and other methods by Campfire Dude.

The first day of camp was rather rainy, so fire-building materials were wet. Anyhow, between the start of camp and Wednesday, I cut a piece from a log, split it, and made the necessary pieces. I purchased material for the bowstring from the camp store. Between Wednesday and Friday, I spent time practicing. I was able to generate smoke, but there was no spark. Eventually, it was Friday night. I only had overnight in which to "pop a spark." I attended the closing campfire. After the campfire, it was around 10PM. I went to the scoutcraft area where other scouts were pumping on their sets. I began pumping on my set. The smoke starts coming, and my arms get tired. I look, but there is no spark. I try again, and still I fail. After four hours of failure, I am getting to be too tired to stay awake. My scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster are there cheering for me. The other people who have "popped their spark" are there cheering for me, but with all that support I feel like giving up. The person supervising takes me into the woods and talks to me. I tell him I’m tired and just want to go to sleep. He convinces me to try one more time. He says I’m so close. Of course, I’ve heard that several times before, but I do try again. I give it my all, I actually break my bow as I recall and collapse. Luckily, one of the supervisors takes a look and there is indeed an ember. Luckily somebody has what is called a bird’s nest around. A bird’s nest is just some unraveled natural rope. The ember is placed within it. The technique is then to whisper to it. Eventually there is enough hot ash to start moving the bird’s nest into figure eight motions. I do so. Then something amazing happens. That ember erupts into a ball of flame! I rush into the woods to collect twigs and small pieces of wood. I then get some larger sticks and the fire lasts the requisite amount of time. We rejoice by singing, as is the tradition, "Hot Time in the Old Town."

Late last night in bed we all were in bed
Grandma left a lantern in the shed
When the cow kicked it over,
she winked her eye and said
‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight
Fire! Fire! Fire!’

I don’t think there has been a more thrilling moment in my life. There is also the amazement that all that work gets you one little spark. But with the right attention, that spark can erupt into something magnificent.