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.

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