The light glows soft on their faces. The sounds of crackling and soft guitar ring through the air.
“Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling, Clementine” flows into my ears from the many voices singing the song, including my own. The scent of smoke wafts into my nose, mingled with the sweetness of burnt marshmallows and melted chocolate. I feel the wood log we were all sitting on, hard, rough, and slightly uncomfortable, going unnoticed by everyone due to the cozy atmosphere in the air. No matter how small the campfire moments may be, they were ones that made me feel at peace.
Nature and I have never gotten along. I don’t like being in situations where you can’t be prepared – there’s no solid back up plan if anything goes wrong. Nature is an unsavory mix of reliable and unreliable. You can count on the seasons, you can count on nature following its natural processes, but there’s always exceptions. Nature listens to no one. Sometimes, seasons will be different, temperature can change on a whim. Lives can be destroyed by a hurricane or a cliff that randomly decides to break off. I could never be so close to something I couldn’t control. The city distances you from these feelings, even though we are all constantly at nature’s whim. The time I spent outdoors only reminded me of a truth I’d rather forget.
However, every year my class would go camping. It always made me anxious, but it was a camp with cabins and mess halls and running water, so some might not even count it as a real experience. We would go hiking and all I could think about was that something bad was going to happen. We’d run into poison ivy or come across a mountain lion even though they weren’t known to be in the area. I knew these fears were irrational, but they always persisted. I was constantly afraid, and it was hard to find reprieve from the fears that plagued my mind. However, one thing that I loved about camping was the campfire.
The soft, warm lighting on people’s faces that I couldn’t stop taking pictures of. The sound of laughter from another side of the fire pit. Seeing my usually composed teachers with chocolate and marshmallows stuck to their faces. It all felt like home to me. For some reason, in the dark, scary night, I felt myself relax for the first time that day. Even though I was scared of the fire, slightly afraid that it would somehow light up the whole forest, it wasn’t as prevalent as my usual fears.
Then, the singing started. We would sing classics like, “Happy Trails”, but the one I most vividly remember was a song called “Clementine.” The song was about a miner falling in love with a girl named, Clementine, who drowns. Then, he starts dating her sister. I remember thinking the song was too morbid to be sung so happily, everyone smiling while singing, “You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine.” That may be why it sticks out in my memory the most. Even in the face of an arguably strange song, we still were all enjoying ourselves. The sound of people all singing together impacted me, especially when I was asked to lead some of the songs. The sense that maybe there was something I could do with the sounds of all these voices, be a part of this group of people all blending into one thing, working towards one goal. The feeling was similar to the community I have in choir now, which makes it one of the most important parts of my life.
I remember the sinking feeling I got in my stomach when the campfire ended. I didn’t want it to be over. The glow of the moonlight and flashlights we used to guide our way back to cabins was much less welcoming than the warm light of the campfire. It was like there has been this pocket of warmth, a tiny area where maybe, just maybe, reality didn’t exist. Now, the warmth was gone, and we were back into the cold world where I worried too much. However, when I got back, I felt different. It wasn’t back to being in a world with harsh, bright lighting. It was like being back in a world where I could find places with the campfire’s glow. I was able to see the good, calm moments in stressful situations. I let myself enjoy those feelings of being surrounded by chaos, but unaffected by it. I found anchors to ground me, searching for the emotions I got from the campfire.
As the years went by, I looked forward to the camping trips themselves, seeing the valuable memories that could be made. However, my favorite part was always the campfire. Even when the day was stressful, I always found myself comforted by its warm flames. I wouldn’t trade those feelings of relief the campfire gave me for anything in the world. It taught me a valuable lesson. Nature is, objectively, unpredictable. It can destroy and wreak havoc on many. It can be the cause of death. However, it can also be a source of peace. A place to escape reality, a place to ground yourself and be prepared for the working world. So go out there, sit by the glow of the campfire, and ignore the artificial lighting for a while. Appreciate nature’s ability to not only destroy but heal as well.
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