Life is humbling, as my fire-starting abilities never fail to proveby Cal Flyn / August 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
They say that “there’s no smoke without fire,” but anyone who has spent a furious evening poring over a damp and discouraging firepit in the lashing rain knows this to be untrue. One can produce plenty of thick, dark smoke, over a long period of time, and yet still fail to produce flames for more than a few thrilling seconds at a time.
Starting a fire is the simplest and yet most exasperating of tasks. There are many methods, each based on similar principles, but I use one I learnt in the Arctic during a polar night that stretched out over a month: build a low square pyre of sticks, like a Jenga tower towards the end of a game, then fill the centre with easy-burning tinder (curling sheets of silver birch bark, or pages torn from a book). Light the tinder, lay another layer on top, voilà.
It’s a proven method, one that has served me well on a hundred cold evenings, but for whatever reason—bad luck, wet fuel, gale-force winds—it sometimes fails. It is not foolproof, I suppose, and I am often a fool.
Come on, maybe, light my fire
Such failures are humbling and occur at the most inconvenient moments (shivering in a one-roomed cabin in the dark, breath clouding the air; far from anywhere, when all there is to eat is raw meat), and in company I want to impress. But life is humbling, and every failure carries within it a lesson, if we are willing to take it on—often things that we once knew, but of which we need reminding.
In this way, the travails of lighting a fire in the wild is an excellent allegory for pursuing ambitions of many kinds. Start small, for instance: that’s key. And begin with the easy stuff—tissue or new…