To Build a Fire

When in doubt, have a campfire.  It has straightened my bent condition many times.

Balsamea Campfire 200512

Yours truly tending a winter campfire at Balsamea in 2005

My favorite passage from the 1908 short story, To Build a Fire by Jack London (1876-1916):

“Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away to escape being singed. When the man was finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens, settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took the creek trail up the left fork.”     Continue reading

A word about Balsamea’s snowshoe paths

Actually, it’s around 1058 words.

Originally I intended to let the snowshoe path pictures in my previous blog post speak for themselves.  Today, Pyrrhite’s comment on that post got me wondering about what makes Balsamea’s snowshoe paths so attractive to me that I popped off more than 200 snapshots hoping to get lucky in the handful I found worth posting here.

In pithy Pyrrhite style, I read, “I love snowshoe trails. Nothing much is quite as compelling.”  Why are they so compelling?  Okay, Py, you pulled the cord to muse up a scribblement.  Let’s see if I have the gas to shoot through it quickly, because I am supposed to be doing something else.  I may be a scribblement addict, and you an enabler.

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Balsamea Winter: daily walking snowshoe paths

These photos from March 26, 2013 are samples of Balsamea’s snowshoeing paths just before the big thaw.  This is a taste of the blessing of Balsamea that Buddy and I walk through three times every day, all year, in all weather, day and night, without fail.


20130326-Snow-Paths-02In many places the snow is still as much as 18 inches deep (hole to the left), placing the floor of the path (right) at about one foot above the ground.  That is very densely packed snow, from months of accumulations and walking on it.  Usually it begins turning to treacherous ice this time of year, and I rely on strap-on ice cleats.  So far icing has not happened.  It seems we will have a short ice spell, if any.

If my Uncle Jimmy were here, he would say, “Eat your heart out.”

Click any picture to see large views in carousel mode.

Thrice-Warming Wood

I love a campfire.  I like to say that having one is to “enjoy the thrice-warming wood.”

D-sit-facing-fire-2006Thrice-warming because:

First, you warm up from the physical labor of collecting the wood.  Then, you warm up from the labor of breaking and/or sawing it.  Finally, of course, the wood gives its life to entertain, console, amuse, mesmerize and warm you, in mind and body, with fire.


December 2005 – Balsamea’s First Winter

The wood gives its life for the fire?  Isn’t it already dead?  Not as I see it.  The tree is dead, but good firewood is still loaded with stored energy.  I think of that energy as the last of the wood’s life as wood, before it decomposes, becoming something else.  When that “something else” is ash in my fireplace, and pleasure for me, I am the last beneficiary of the wood’s life as wood.


Balsamea’s First Fireplace
I built it as a perpendicular extension of the rock wall, using rocks removed from the wall to make a four-foot wide passage through it (just off the picture right edge). The fireplace is about three feet wide inside. This is at “Camp Balsamea,” the fireplace closest to the house, near the camper and shed. I lived at Camp Balsamea (in the camper and at this fireplace) from May 2008 to June 2010. My Thoreauvian Experiment. It worked.

When I find a nice four-inch thick dead-fallen maple that dried suspended in the air (which happens in various ways) instead of soddened with the leaf mold and moss on the ground, it is a joy, and I am grateful to find the treasure.  I have several long pieces of maple set aside at my campsites, enough campfire wood for a long time, and good sawing exercise, because maple does not surrender easily.


When folded, the blade slides into the long back section.

I prefer four inches or less wood diameter (five to six for softwoods) because my backpacking saw handles it nicely.  I love that saw.  I’ve had it many years and used it many times, still on the original blade.  If you want a good backpack saw, look for the Sawvivor brand.

I’ve seen people embarrass themselves with inferior saws when they break or fall apart within the first ninety seconds of use.  (Always test your gear at home before heading out to the woods.)  My Sawvivor is tough, rust-proof, and a good size for serious work, but it fits nicely in a day-pack (15″).  It has a padded handle, too.  It is standard equipment in my backpack, even when I have no intention of making a fire.  It is a survival tool.

Below, find your favorite irreverent self-amused blogging Balsamean on a chilly, windy and sunny afternoon, Saturday, September 16, 2012, enjoying the thrice-warming wood (shown here in two of the three warming activities) at our Turkeyfoot Campsite.

All summer I look forward to mid-September, when Balsamea starts to seriously chill.  It is also the onset of the bulk of the autumn leaf color changes.  On average, our first frost comes around September 15.  In 2012 it came on 9/11, as solid ice, not just frost.  (See my blog post, 9/11/12: First Frost is ICE!)  I celebrated that morning with a campfire, too.  That’s right, two campfires within a week, the 11th and 16th, celebrating the cold.  Summer is my least favorite season.  Campfires feel better in the cold.

(As always, click the pix to cozy up closer.)

Yes, I do have a metal folding chair stashed out there at the Turkeyfoot Campsite.  And now and then I like to saunter around Balsamea letting my feet experience the ground as it truly is, naturally.  Hey, I’m the Balsamean.

I do not remember that it was a windy day, but it must have been pretty gusty for me to put down the chin-strap on my hat.  That campsite does catch more wind than the others.

Are you a big fan of campfires?  Enough to have them several times a year at home?


Wind Slayer – Scribblement 20130223

20130223.  A nice date brought to you by 0, 1, 2 and 3.
Congratulations to all of today’s newborns.

WARNING:  This blog is for my entertainment more than yours, including the parts that you contribute.  Apparent indications to the contrary should be viewed another way.

NOTICE:  You are reading the blog of
The Conqueror of the West-Northwest Wind.

colorful weather map

I enjoy clearing snow, but not when it is solely to remove drifts, without the benefits of fresh, significant snowfall.  In this context, the Balsamea Dictionary 8th Edition defines “significant” as at least four inches of snow within twelve hours, preferably at least once per week from Pearl Harbor Day to Saint Patrick’s Day.

Lately we’ve had more snow accumulation by drifting than falling.  It is an annoying pattern where one or two inches of snowfall gives you up to a foot of drifted accumulation in all the wrong places, and it keeps happening for a stretch of contiguous days, including days when there is no snowFALL, just snowBLOW.

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Winter Views Part B

No comment from me.  Aren’t you glad?

Click anywhere for carousel mode … better views and full captions.

Winter Wonderland

I shot these pictures today, 12/25/2012.  I have better winter pictures from February 2012, coming soon to a blog scribblement near you, but today I wanted to share pictures taken today.

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This has nothing to do with Christmas, but boy-oh-boy if you are into Christmas, in my part of the world the sky and the snow are performing just as Bing Crosby dreamed for on Christmas.

"Yo!  Tannenbaum!" German Tanne (fir) + Baum (tree).

“Yo! Tannenbaum!” German Tanne (fir) + Baum (tree).

For our nightly walk this most celebrated day of the year, in a brisk thirteen degrees (no problem when walking briskly, unless into a stiff headwind, then you have nose issues, but we were in dense forest cover with NO wind tonight) we had the “perfect storm” of combined crystal-clear sky, moon nearing full, and Jupiter parked a finger’s width from the moon, yet blazing its strong light right through the moon’s white-out drowning of all other stars near it.  I wondered what could be so bright?  Is there a kid being born by autogenesis in a manger somewhere?  Should I pack up some balsam incense and head east?

Since Rudolph’s nose isn’t white, and the light was not moving, I decided to check with StarDate, who told me it was a special presentation of Jupiter.  Just the gods playing around in the sky, as ever.  Orion was swashing his buckle just below the moon, also standing out against that moon-washed sky of few visible stars.

The timing was great, too.  The moon was not far from apex just when we set out for the walk, around 8:10 PM.  That makes the light pierce down through the trees with less shadow and more light hitting the snow.

We have a complete snow cover that developed slowly over a period of three days, totaling about four inches accumulation.  With temperatures staying low, the snow is staying put, and still sticking in billows to not only the balsam fir boughs, but to the upper surfaces of many maple and beech tree branches that don’t get hit by a lot of wind and/or sun.  I love the way it puts a white lining on the branches that are otherwise just sticks all winter (unless glazed in ice).

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Way – Scribblement 20121222

Saturday, December 22, 2012.  The second day of winter.  I meant to write something yesterday, to celebrate winter solstice, but I exhausted myself out in the woods being The Balsamean, celebrating for real, not just on paper.  Er … I mean, in pixels.  (That’s trite, isn’t it?)

If ever I lose the ability to walk in the woods as much as I do, maybe I would use the time to write a book (about what, I have no idea).  Unfortunately, most of my best inspiration arises while walking in the woods, the flow of creativity juices increasing proportionate to the time spent walking.  No walking, no writing.

Here on the second day of Winter 2012-13, finally we have some genuine winter weather.  On our morning walk, we had a beautiful 25 degrees and steadily falling snow, adding to the half-melted and re-frozen crunch-bed of snow underfoot.

Viewed from the window in front of me as I scribble, the snow is not falling so much as driven horizontally by strong winds roaring in from the west.  Deep in the woods, where the wind lives mainly in the treetops, the snow floated peacefully down to me during our morning walk.  (By the way, proper making of scribblements at Balsamea is with a window in front of you, if not outdoors.)

This morning, in addition to meandering through some passes and paths, Buddy took me on our usual walk around Balsamea’s perimeter trails.  He tends to want to go clockwise, beginning on Balsamea Way, to the west terminus of Stumpy Way, then Stumpy to the northeast half of Kiefer Loop, then across the east side of Beech Loop, around the southeast corner of Birdsong Loop, and back to the house via Whitetail Way.  Today we also ambled through part of Aranyaka Maze.  We walked about half of the entire trail network.

I cleaned yesterday’s crusty, icy accumulation off all the fireplace and woodpile covers.  This is a routine activity on every walk after snow.  We have large rock fireplaces (that’s large fireplaces made with large rocks) at five locations: Camp Balsamea, Turkeyfoot, Tettegouche, Silviden and Kieferhaven.  This year I made permanent covers for the fireplaces, to keep snow and ice out of them (I use all of them year-round).

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