So. I guess we bought ourselves a campfire. It’s in our living room, right where the old coal firebox used to be.

It looks something like a campfire, I’ll admit. It’s a gas fireplace insert — an aesthetically pleasing suggestion of an actual fire that generates a measure of warmth in our family room. I like it.

I thought I might feel kind of cynical about our fake fire. I’m kind of a real campfire guy. A good fire ought to be an important ingredient in almost every backcountry camping experience.

I thought I’d miss the hissing and popping of a real fire. I thought I’d miss tossing on another piece of wood now and then. I thought I’d really miss the delicious aroma of woodsmoke wafting through the air.

I do miss all of that. But then I think, “Sam, get a grip. You’re sitting in your living room, dude.”

So, that first night we had the fake fire, I flicked it on with the remote starter. I selected the 3-inch flame height. I chose fan speed No. 2.

Blue and orange flames materialized instantly, licking and dancing around logs that would not be consumed. Warmth radiated into the room.


But I didn’t feel quite right sitting in an overstuffed chair looking into those flames. I went to my camping gear and retrieved a little fold-up chair meant for sitting right at ground level in camp. I flopped it open and plopped it on the living-room carpet. I eased down into it, eye-level with the flames.

That felt better.

I’ve decided I’m going to let that fire carry me away to so many other fires I’ve known. Lunch fires that warmed soggy paddlers on rivers flowing to Hudson Bay. A dinner fire, somehow kindled in a cold rain on a gravel bar in the Northwest Territories. A breakfast fire in the canoe country, early May, on a 24-degree morning.

Even real fires come with their liabilities, of course — smoke in the eyes, spark holes in clothing and a lot of time spent splitting and stacking.

But a good fire changes everything. Fire means warmth and life and dry clothes and hot meals. And it means coffee, the early-morning elixir of the wilderness traveler. Some of those fires that I recalled were kindled where it’s unlikely anyone had camped before. Some were built where backcountry travelers have been making fires through the ages.

Where there are fires, there are stories, and the stories serve to hold us all together. Some of the friends who sat around those fires are no longer on the trail with us. But around the fire, we can still see their faces, listen to their laughter and remember their stories.

A time will come, we know, when some of us will no longer gather at the fire, but even now we know that we will be there in spirit, that our traveling companions will tell our stories, that they will raise a toast in our memory.

And at the heart of all this is the fire, crackling and snapping in the quiet moments when each of us ponders our place on the continuum of time.

All of those images made me want to reach behind my camp chair in the family room that night, grab another piece of jackpine and toss it on the fire. But I couldn’t do that.

I just stared into those flames and let my imagination do the rest.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at