Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
Wild Wanderings Blog – March 15, 2012
I touched briefly on the importance of fire last week and will use this opportunity to expand upon it. Fire-making is undeniably a gift that has enabled our race to not only evolve, but to exist. As I write this piece I’m reminded that this is only possible by our understanding/control of fire. It not only lights our World and keeps us warm, but cooks our food, provides us with hot water to bathe (anytime we so desire), forges our tools, powers our vehicles and has provided companionship, comfort and a sense of security for man since the beginning of time…(as we think we know it of course:).
Yes fire is a gift that, among many, is necessary for of our very survival. Interestingly, fire-making is a valuable skill that most of us are never taught. We all know how to walk to the thermostat and turn the dial when we’re cold, but how many of us could start a fire using natural materials if the situation (power outage’s etc) should arise? Sadly…very few.
For the past 20 years of my life I’ve warmed my bones, by wood heat, for at least 15 of them. During that time I’ve developed a relationship with fire that has served me well. Sounds crazy perhaps, but I understand and appreciate fire and I believe it responds to that. Producing fire by friction is an amazing thing. I can talk about it and tell you about my experience with it, but until you experience it for yourself, you won’t understand. It’s a personal thing and unique to all of us. It is truly amazing and I encourage you to seek that moment for yourself.
In a true survival situation, producing a fire could be the deciding factor between life or death…literally. Hopefully, you’re smart enough to always have at least two fire starting options on your person. I always carry a lighter, though in cold weather is pretty worthless. I prefer a ferrocerium rod with various tinder options. Yes I realize I was speaking of friction fires a few moments ago, but when your life may hang in the balance it’s time to bring out the insurance policy:) Ferrocerium rods can ignite cotton balls (with a little added vaseline perhaps), dryer lint, char cloth, trioxane fuel bars (military surplus) or even really finely shredded natural tinder from various plant fibers. Definitely “a must have!”
Personally, I’m not a big fan of matches and please don’t waste your money on those cheesy magnesium fire starter bars they sell at Wal-Mart…ferrocerium rods with the tinder of your choice is a much better option. Speaking of matches…one of my favorite exercises to spring upon students is the “one match fire.” I give them ten minutes to collect, from their immediate surroundings, everything they think they need to start a fire. When they return and create their fire structure (tepee, log cabin etc), I give them ONE match, as though their life depended on it. Depending on the weather that day, most fail the exercise. The beauty of the experience is that they get to observe and learn from everyone, since they all approach it slightly differently.
The biggest mistake everyone makes is collecting material from the ground. The golden rule…if it’s on the ground, assume it’s wet! Always collect dead branches from trees. Every tree has dead limbs and branches. When you try to collect them they should loudly snap off clean! If they don’t break easily, they’re not ready yet…leave them because they contain too much moisture that will dampen your fire. Even when it seems everything is wet, scraping the wet bark off dead branches will expose dry wood.
Hemlock trees, which unfortunately are dying from the woolly adelgid all along the Eastern range:(((, have the absolute best and smallest twigs I’ve ever encountered in the woods. Pine, spruce, cedar and juniper can be pretty good too. Always start small with twigs and increase diameter incrementally. Lighting a log with a lighter doesn’t work… we’ve all seen it attempted, first or second hand…just sayin:))
Now that we have our twigs we need to turn our attention to tinder. Tinder is an important aspect of fire-making indeed. Tinder is literally anything that we can naturally gather or shred that is fine enough to catch flame and transfer that into our fire set (twigs etc). Leaves are over-rated… I prefer the inner bark of various trees and plant stalks, followed by grasses and dried flower tops. Once again ferrocerium rods can ignite most of these if conditions are right. A typical tepee structure works well, but only if constructed properly. Personally, I prefer a hybrid… a marriage between the box shaped log cabin and the tepee. Tepee structures, by themselves, often collapse and fail.
Anyway…I’ll cover more about this next week. In the meantime…I CHALLENGE you to attempt a “one match fire.” It’s a fun thing to do with your family and friends. It’s really quite revealing. As always thanks for reading my Blog. I welcome your thoughts and input. Also, I started a group called “Traditional / Primitive Living Skills” and invite you to join and contribute.
Richard Cleveland lives in Asheville, NC. He is the founder and director of Earth School. A self-trained Naturalist, fishing and nature guide, he has taught traditional native skills to thousands of people, of all ages. For info about his programs visitwww.LoveTheEarth.com
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