building a fire
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID SARACINO

What Your Fire-Building Technique Says About You

You can tell a lot about someone based on the way they craft their flames.

June 15, 2015

You can tell a lot about a person by the way she builds a campfire. The fastidious stack the wood perfectly crisscross. People who won’t let anyone help are probably crabby in general. Once I met a woman who was an obsessive blower. She was an experienced outdoorswoman, but perhaps she didn’t have enough faith.

Then there are those who stare at the unlit fire pit as if looking for a switch. To these folks I say it’s time to learn how to build a fire. I call my own method Critical Mass: You need enough of the right stuff to get a fire going fast and furiously. Layer crumpled newspaper on the ground. Add handfuls of dry kindling. Top it with three to five dry logs. It doesn’t have to be neat, though there has to be space for air between the logs. Light a match to the paper and—whoosh!—fire.

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What does this method say about me? I don’t like fuss or overworking things. I like to get it done, and move on to more important matters. If it doesn’t work? Then I laugh, forgive myself, and sing a campfire song. I’ve heard that our ability to cook food over a fire is what made our brains so large, what sparked civilization. So making fire makes us human. Once the fire is taken care of? Then we can turn to more important human endeavors, like love.