If you’re looking for someone to go camping with, don’t ask me. Because: A) I’ll eat all the food, and B) if you ask me to start a fire with no matches or a lighter, then be prepared for one, long, cold night.
Look, I’m a jock. I’ll race you to that tree. I’ll swim in a river against the current and get somewhere. Give me a rock and a target and I’ll hit a bullseye. However, set me loose with a group of camping enthusiasts, and watch poetry in atrophy. Give me a rope and ask me to tie a knot to secure something, and I’ll tie it so horribly wrong that rope will look like a chaotic, frazzled wad of shoestring intertwined in a bird’s nest.
This is pretty much how it plays out if I go camping…
The idiot in me agrees to go with four guys (only one of them I know), on a three-day rugged hike into an inhospitable region of dense wilderness where mosquitos and horse flies await to ambush you like a plague of possessed flying syringes. Their clothes and backpacks gives me the impression they have each won a $5,000 shopping spree at REI. I arrive in cargo shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes. My “backpack” is an Adidas drawstring sackpack containing an extra pair of socks, and an extra t-shirt. I also brought a sleeping bag and a one-man tent that I purchased at Target during their “Outdoors Combo Special” for $49.99. The weather forecast calls for a high of 72 degrees and a nighttime low of 52. A gentle breeze is out of the south at 5 mph. I don’t bother to check the extended forecast. An imbecileian mistake.
And then I, and only I, am the chosen one asked to get a campfire going…
My buddy hands me a 4″ broken piece of something. I look stupefied at this object, as if t’s an artifact fallen from an alien spaceship. I really have no idea what I am looking at or what I’m supposed to do with it. It could be a petrified Snicker bar for all that I know. He sees the clueless look on my face and explains that it’s a broken piece of a steel file, and I need to strike it against some quarts to create sparks to start the fire. All I have to do is find a rock with quartz. I truly believe I might be better off being asked to find a golden unicorn baking sugar cookies in the belly of a whale.
Not about to show any weakness in my complete lack of outdoor survival knowledge, I say, “I got this.” Yeah, I got this like a stringless kite flying amok in the wind. As I put my head down and begin looking at rocks, I pick up a pebble not much larger than a gnat’s brain, and actually consider its fire-generating possibilities. I scrape it over the piece of steel and, doing so, rake off part of a fingernail and lose the pebble. Good lord, I am doomed.
There’s a river located a few hundred yards from where we’ve decided to set camp. Certainly I’ll be able to find quartz there. But I have no idea what I am even looking for other than something that is similar to Kryptonite or has the appearance of sea salt magnified under an electron microscope. Doomed is an understatement.
The river flows strong, and is blessed with a fertile rocky shoreline. Thousands of rocks! For 20 minutes I scour this rock farm, but see nothing resembling quartz. Not a single one of them is calling my attention. Fifteen more minutes of rock combing and my attention shifts. I see that there are many rocks the size and shape of baseballs. I abandon my search for Kryptonite and begin seeking out a target. It’s an old tree stump on the other side of the river. My very first throw lands a direct heavy thud in the middle of the stump. It bounces off and rolls into the river, as if in happy celebration of its impact. I challenge myself to a further target, and spot an elm tree a little further beyond the stump. I gather about ten prime baseball rocks and, within a minute, I miss with each throw. The competitive monster in me takes over and I begin throwing all types of rocks in rapid succession. Even a few cluster bombs of smaller ones. Faster and faster I throw, recklessly picking up more rocks and throwing them like a clumsy child. And then it happens…
During my feverish rock harvest, my hands felt something with distinct ridge-like edges. It had a pinkish, semi-translucent appearance. What a great feeling when you know you’re a complete camping failure, and then you excavate a major component for making fire. And how quickly that great feeling can vanish—like ice smothering an ember—when you realize, amongst those rocks you were throwing in rapid fire, you also sent flying a 4” piece of steel. The river being too wide and too strong to cross, I begin preparing my story for the guys… “You won’t believe the size of the bear that just chased me!! I had to drop everything and run!!”
* * *
I woke up to first light, my toes seemingly frozen, and my body not faring too well either. A sharp northern wind blew in overnight and is knifing its way through the trees and straight into my shivering body. My sale item Target sleeping bag is about as insulated at Saran Wrap. In the middle of the night, restless sleep had me tossing and turning to where I uprooted the stakes anchoring my tiny tent. I basically looked like an ill-made polyester cocoon gone wrong. The smell of a campfire infiltrated every thread of my clothing. My bear story bore no believability since the last time a bear was spotted in these woods was…well, never. So I told them I must have mistaken the bear for a honey badger. They erupted in laughter. “Well, you may suck at camping, but you do have comedy going for you!”
Not long after that, one of the guys headed down to the river and came back two minutes later holding a large chunk of quartz. He gathered up some tufts of dry grass and some small twigs, picked an open area, pulled out an old worn steel knife, and began scraping the quartz very close to the grass. Moments later a few sparks appeared, and soon after that the grass caught fire. He looked at me and said, “Hey, keep your day job.” I imagined commanding a pet honey badger to go rabid on his face, followed by a gang of gnarly trolls to cook him in a cauldron of boiling toad soup. Though the imagery is heavenly, it is nothing more than imagery, and so, he wins.
The good news is the camping trip piqued my interest in geology. I now have a quartz collection that sits upon my fireplace mantel, right above where a propane-generated fire burns brightly. And all at one flick of a switch!
Copyright Ros Hill 2016