Friday, February 20, 2015

The Outdoorsman's Diary: Where Are the Matches?

The predicament of that camping trip wasn’t deliberate--just a symptom of youth. Fire has a way of keeping the attention of all but the most severe cases of ADHD. Needless to say, its hold on a 17-year old male is paramount. 

Along with two other hooligans, I enjoyed the experience of “roughing it” in a large patch of “almost wilderness” near our hometown on many weekends throughout our High School years. One of our favorite “activities” was the construction of “torches.” We would take bark from birch trees, which is highly-flammable, and wrap them around large sticks. Upon ignition, the bark would roar into an inferno. Fortunately, for Smokey the Bear’s sake, there was a lake nearby, so we could extinguish our flames by sailing them through the air, like enflamed javelins, then letting them sizzle into the water.

Easy, clean fun.

The predicament happened on one of our camping adventures. Dusk had fallen and the three of us sat around the campfire. With no torches left, my friend decided it was a good idea to light matches and throw them around at random or simply watch them burn down. It’s just one of those things that a 17-year old hooligan does to stay occupied.

I guess a KISS tribute band happened to be playing in the nearby town that evening, so we had a “relaxing” evening of enjoying the delightful sounds of nature intermixed with the screaming lyrics of: “I want to rock ‘n’ roll all night! And party every day!” Once the sounds of KISS faded, we watched the campfire dwindle before we weaseled into our individual tents. As usual, I fell asleep with the fear that the curious bears of MN would be bold enough to try to eat our food--or us. 

At dawn, obviously glad to survive the bumps in the night, I emerged from my tent and relished the crisp, cold autumn air. The morning sun seeped through the pine needles and gave me some warmth, but I was still shivering. So I gathered firewood to start a warming fire, which would also be used to cook out breakfast (this was before we decided it was a good idea to purchase PocketRockets).

My camping compadres, the hooligans, were still nestled in their sleeping bags dreaming of hot showers and flush toilets. So I silently let them be as I did my morning chore. My stomach growled in anticipation for the yummy meal of “omelet-in-a-bag” that awaited, so I hurriedly finished piling the firewood and began searching for the matches...

Where are the matches?

I scrambled through the campsite paraphernalia, but the little red box was nowhere. Recalling the match-lighting ceremony of my friend the night before, I whipped open his tent with a not-so-cordial, “Where are the matches?! WHERE ARE THE MATCHES?!” I rummaged through his bags, frantic and desperate.

After I effectively woke him up with the thrashing, my friend unveiled the horrid fact: “I burned them all last night,” he said with a grunt.

That was our only box of matches, and my friend used it for simple fun. In that moment, my stomach, compelled by the realization that breakfast was doomed, decided to form a coup. If my skin hadn’t held it in place, my tummy would have certainly ripped out and attacked my friend in an attempt to avenge its own hunger. 

None of us had skills in primitive fire-lighting, so if we wanted a fire (and we did), the only option was to hike back to my car, parked a half-mile away, and use its cigarette lighter to...MAKE A TORCH! My friends laughed at the idea, but I insisted it would work.

Since it was my car and my idea, I was the chosen one. After finding a good piece of birch bark, I constructed my torch and hiked off to my car. 

I sat in the passenger seat of my ‘91 Plymouth Acclaim as I repeatedly used the cigarette lighter in an attempt to ignite my torch. The process proved difficult, since the lighter failed to output enough heat to ignite the birch bark. I tried a dozen times, each time failing. Then, the cigarette lighter decided to break, but I still managed to use it for another dozen attempts.

Despite the failures to ignite, a large volume of smoke was produced from the persistent effort. The fumes seeped into every hole and orifice on my body. As I coughed and swatted at the plumes, I saw a familiar truck slow down on the road nearby. It was my Dad’s work truck. He and my brother in-law were on their way to work and happened to drive by as the pillars of smoke seeped out of my car. Their appearance proved to be a perfect coincidence (minus the fact that I appeared to be smoking a cig or something worse), since it was likely that one of the truck compartments might contain a lighter or box of matches.

They came to a stop, rolled down the window and watched me exhale a draught of smoke. So, obviously, my first order of business was to convince them that I wasn’t a closet smoker. After this was accomplished, I told them about our predicament. As expected, there was a spare lighter in the truck’s glove box, so they (warily) gave it to me and continued on their way to work.

I now concocted a devious idea; it was within my power to prove my camping compadres wrong.  They doubted my torch-lighting abilities, and now they would get a taste at what I was made of. With a wide smile, I walked back to the outskirts of the campsite, stopping behind a large ridge of bedrock--out of view from the hooligans.

Using my Dad’s lighter, I successfully ignited my torch. Once the flames grew to the proper height, I unleashed my inner Olympic-torch-bearer, climbed the ridge of bedrock and trotted towards them with the flame roaring beside me.

The first thing the hooligans saw was smoke, followed by the flame. Then, with a spectacle of unparalleled grandeur, with the morning sun to my back, my gallant physique emerged with the glorious torch in hand. I strode into the campsite like a triple-crown stallion, showered with laud and praise. In that moment, I was their savior, their flame-bearer, their breakfast-bringer. I welcomed their cheers and their exclamations of disbelief as I laid the flame at their feet. 

Stories like this remind me to see the bright side of predicaments, no matter how trivial or severe. In the more severe sufferings of life, Jesus reminds us to “take heart” because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). As we navigate through the world, we take comfort in the knowledge that we’re not bound by the whims of chance or fate, but by the sovereign hand of God (Rom. 8:28). I consider trivial predicaments, like this story, to be little “schoolteachers” that prepare us for the more difficult tumults. Mild predicaments allow us to soak in the principles that they’re trying to teach us. Then, once those difficult trials come, we can draw on those principles as a way to be reminded that we can, in fact, “take heart” because our Lord has overcome the world. 

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