Duncan Storlie is a retired teacher and wilderness guide, who has been a Minnesota Men’s Conference participant since 1993, and is presently on the MMC Board. He was inspired to write this piece after the most recent MMC Winter Retreat – “Into the Belly of Ice and Snow” where knowledge of fire is important. He teaches old fire starting techniques – with bow drill or with flint and steel. Duncan is also developing a book of his river photography and poems.
Something Very Good to Do
What if there was something you could do that made you feel great, that was interesting, healing for the soul and profoundly satisfying? Something that didn’t involve other people or gurus and cost virtually nothing – wouldn’t you like to know more about it?
If you are still with me, here is what I recommend. It’s something I have done myself many times so I know it’s a wonderful thing to do. Quite simply it is this – with positive intention build a fire, tend it carefully and focus on it until it goes out!
Flint and Steel
Here is what you will need:
- Outdoor fire ring and conditions that are not too dry or windy, or an indoor fireplace.
- Several hours without distractions. Anytime is good, nighttime is best.
- A good armload of dry firewood, small and medium sized pieces.
- Another armload of tinder (newspaper, birch bark, etc.) and plenty of kindling.
- A source of ignition: matches, lighter, flint and steel, or bow drill kit. If you want to use the old methods it will take practice and there are tons of information in books and online about tools and techniques. Through use of the old ways, I have come to understand that I am releasing the fire that is already in the wood, in the atoms of the stone and steel, in the muscles of my hands and body, and that I am channeling something primordial.
- Also it may be good to have bucket of water on hand to douse the fire if needed, and a small metal pot to heat water and items to brew coffee or tea, and perhaps a snack.
- Clothing layers and a blanket could be useful too.
- Finally, a few small offerings like tobacco, cornmeal, sugar, tidbits of food, etc.
That’s it !
Now, and this is very important, turn off all the phones and electronic devices and put them out of sight. It’s time to take a break, disconnect from the outside world, and take a vacation from the static noise and pressures of modernity. No ?
You are now ready to lay your fire and ignite it. Doing this with care and positive intention will make your fire feel sacred. As the fire catches and grows, make an offering and thank the wood and trees and sunshine and all the other things that contribute to this small adventure.
Settle in, tend the fire, study the way the flames move, the swirling smoke rises and how coals flicker and glow. You are now participating in an alchemical transformation, the fundament of fire, observing the magical shift of primordial energy from one form to another.
Your thoughts may wander off to work or family or whatever, just bring your focus back to the fire and open all your senses to the moment – the smell of smoke, the warmth of fire, the hiss and crackle of the burning wood.
I offer you a story I learned from a Shaman friend: When trees grow they store the history of their life in layer upon layer of wood that accumulates over time. Each ring holds the seasonal story of wind and rain, sun and cold, lightening and thunder, birds and squirrels, and the silent swell of summer growth. When we burn old wood, all those memories are released by the flames, and, if we listen intently, we can hear the tales – a blizzard, a family of nesting owls, the drought of 1899? the snap and hiss means more than just volatile hydrocarbons changing state – much much more. In one sense you are witnessing perhaps fifty thousand sunrises and sunsets!
All that’s left to do is to tend this fire until it burns down to glowing embers and then goes completely out if you can take the time. It is excellent if the fire burns out as a sunrise paints the morning sky with orange flame.
I guarantee you will feel good, grounded and ready to face what comes. Please don’t just think about doing this — do it! Experiencing it first hand is way more profound and fulfilling than can be captured in words.
You have immersed yourself in something incredibly old. Proto-humans have sat around fires for a very very long time. The earliest dates are not clear, but evidence of fire has been found in Homo Erectus sites well over a million years old! So the experience of staring into a fire is burned into our neural net, into our DNA, and it evokes extremely ancient memory pathways. Perhaps more than any other human memory, observing and taking in a fire is the fundamental building block of our humanity. I believe this is why staring into a fire is so mesmerizing and so profoundly and deeply satisfying.
~ Duncan Storlie, M.A.
IT SOUNDS LIKE PRAISE
Is it possible that thanking
The glistening spring leaves
Helps them feel proud and happy?
Could this thanking somehow make
Roots and rocks and rivers
Grin inside too, if just for a moment?
Did your father do this for you?
The answer may be yes, or no –
Can you see why?
Gracious then, life is awakening everywhere
Let’s get busy with the thanking
For these leaves it’s not yet too late
~ Duncan Storlie
Robert Bly – a birthday
Late in a given year
At the coming of the light
A man turns ninety.
Deep in the soil
roots shift ever so slightly
changing their mind about darkness.
Sugary sap oozes
oh so slowly up
into vessels of spring.
He rises early,
wearing new slippers;
a kiss is given,
a poem written,
and a teapot sings for leaves.
-Duncan Steele Storlie
KNOW ANY SONGS?
We got here by long walking –
following the universal coastline
of every sea and stream.
It didn’t take long on the map
of geologic time.
Only hundred thousand years (give or take a few),
Proto to People.
Each river offered a song
to learn along the way,
sacred music to travel by.
Some Aborigines still remember songlines
they heard fifty thousand years ago,
sustaining the people through drought and isolation.
Where are the songlines of modernity!?
Still here, my friends, still here –
Listen closely to the creeks and winding rivers,
memorize their music and then
Sing us a future.
– Duncan Steele Storlie
Jack London (1908)
Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (1908 version)
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben