This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 11th, 2005

I've Been 'Fired' and Loved It

I was sitting on a park bench in our backyard, staring into the lovely flames in the permanent firepit we built many years ago. I had been burning yard waste, a great deal of it the results of a couple of bad windstorms. We lost a tree in the last one, and our 'lawn guy' Teddy came and cut it up for us. We saved the big stuff for the fireplace, but that left a lot of limbs to be disposed of.

So along with the other waste from winter the fire pit was piled high and was dubbed the 'muskrat house.' It actually looked like one...well minus the fact it wasn't sitting in water. Rain is forecast for the next week so my husband, Castwell, decided we should burn it while we had the chance.

I've been appointed the 'official' fire builder in our house, so in the best Girl Scout manner I touched the fire off and once I had fed on the last of the limbs I sat with a cup of coffee on the bench and enjoyed my work.

I watched the fire, mesmerized by the flames and patterns in the glowing coals. I thought of the hundreds of campfires over the years. Different places, most on rivers, with attendees ranging from our oldest friends to new folks we just met at Fish-Ins. I suppose those of us who love the outdoors have a particular love for campfires and the comradeship which seems to go naturally with them. While we have a fireplace in the house, and I love it, it isn't the same as being outdoors with a proper fire. A proper fire doesn't burn one side and freeze the other - it warms all the way around.

Every weekend for two years or so we camped at Keystone Landing on the Mainstream of the Ausable River in Michigan during the trout season. We had a pop-up camper, and it was perfect for that region. After the evenings fishing and dinner a group of friends gathered around a campfire, usually between Castwell and Neils campers. The group varied, but there were 'house rules' which everyone adhered to. You could talk about anything except your job.

When you think about it, our circle of friends is quite often limited. I read a survey a while back which stated 75% of our friends are associated with our work. So being forced to discuss things not work related did allow people to think outside a square box and exercise the other side of their brains. We had some wonderful discussions, and great humor.

The fishing on the Mainstream was predictable, most of our friends knew what insects were hatching when, and since Castwell and Neil had studied the local insects extensively, there weren't a lot of surprises. We had favorite hatches of course - most who have fished much do - and there were not a lot of large trout caught, with the exception of night fishing during the Hex hatch.

We also had to contend with the 'aluminum hatch' - worse on weekends, but hundreds of canoes coming downstream from the canoe liveries in Grayling. Some canoes were manned by people who actually knew what they were doing, and they avoided running into fishermen, but more often it was kids or adults who had far too much to drink and should not have been in a canoe under any circumstances. Occasionally it would be a supervised group, like Boy or Girls Scouts and that was fun to see. I had been a Girl Scout leader for many years, and it was somehow encouraging to see other leaders make the commitment to teach kids some outdoor skills. I have no idea if the number of Scouts is up or down these days, but somehow I suspect it is down. I hope I'm wrong, but our society has changed so much we seem to be losing things which I still feel are important to pass on.

The campground at Keystone Landing has been moved back away from the river, and you can't camp and almost fish off your front door any more. I'm sure it was done to protect the stream bank, but I did note the last time we were there it was still a 'landing' for canoe pick-up, so perhaps that presented a conflict with the campers.

We had also camped at Canoe Harbor on the Mason Tract, and that campground has also been moved away from the river (the South Branch of the Ausable) - so it appears there was an organized move to relocate the campgrounds. That was also a canoe pickup place.

It was lovely while it lasted - falling asleep to the sounds of the river outside your camp was such a nice thing. Hard to duplicate. But we have tried, we have one of those 'sound machines' in our bedroom which replicates the sound of a mountain stream, frogs, rainstorm and the ocean on the shore.

Staring into the fire reminded me of so many places and people. A nice little mental trip. It didn't hit me until the next day, I really was playing 'let's pretend.' Just getting away from my normal work and chores. No fishing here at the moment. A month from right now we will be somewhere around Ephrata, Washington at the Central Washington Fish-In. I'm sure there will be a campfire at the Oasis Campground, somewhere around wherever "Z" and Cary are camped.

It was nearly dark before I gave up on my bonfire and came inside. I was tired from hauling the branches and piling stuff, but over all, much less frustrated. In fact, even recharged. Of course if you've been out fishing you probably don't understand. ~ DLB

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