Archives for category: Pine Trees

I love fire. Not in the pyromaniac sense, but in the appreciation for how valuable fire is to this earth’s existence. Fire has played a role in shaping our landscape and society since the beginning of time. Today, in our modern, post-industrialized society we actually take fire for granted. In fact, some members of our species have abused fire.

My first encounter with an actual fire was when I was about 4 years old. Our family would head into the woods on camping trips. I remember my dad, joking around, telling me and my 2 y.o. brother he was going to show me the best way to start a fire. He carefully built this mound of wood, then poured something on top. Then he threw a match and WHOOOSH!!!

I was standing a bit close and it scared me. I have no idea how my brother reacted, but somehow I could tell that my mother wasn’t impressed. The opposite, actually.

I often wonder if my respect for fire began that evening when the smell of fossil fuel immediately combusting became ingrained in my brain. Despite that explosive moment, my father really was a decent outdoorsman and taught us to be vigilant when it came to campfires. Over the years we’d go into the forests and he’d show us how to build the proper base, then gradually add larger and larger pieces of wood until you had a sustainable flame.

Then, the family moved to Colorado. My dad met a commercial hunting outfitter and took on as a lead guide. My mom helped out as the camp cook. Some of the greatest meals I’ve ever had were in those camps. But that’s another story.

My dad was always a very early riser…so am I, come to think of it. Sleeping in was an opulent luxury and when enjoyed, meant sleeping until 8 or 9a.m. Anyway, hunting camps get very early starts, like 6am or earlier. My dad would always get up before the other hunters, stir my brother or I, and we’d make a fire. The paying hunters would always start to come alive as the big, military GP tent would start to get toasty. My mom had coffee and breakfast ready too.

Today, I love fire for myriad reasons. I love to cook over an open flame and coals. There really is a nuance to it, you don’t just stick a piece of meat over a roaring flame, and you have to pay attention to what kind of fuel you’re using. Pine wood is horrible for grilling because it’s so damned pitchy. Your food will taste like pine-char.

I also love fire because of what it has meant to the human race. I saw this movie when I was a kid, called Quest for Fire. It was the story of this population of prehistoric humans (why are they prehistoric; like there was no history for them?) and how hard they worked to collect and protect the ability to make a fire. There was this one scene where the guy tasked with carrying and caring for the ember fell into the water. The ember died, and you could see the absoluteness of the situation in the faces of those affected.

Camping is almost synonymous with campfire. It’s one of the most important thing to some campers. I’ve met more than one person who’s evening would have been ruined if we couldn’t have a fire to sit around.

When I sit around a fire with friends, I’m always struck by the depth of the conversations that emanate from those circles. It’s as if the light of the fire, contrasted with the backdrop of “the wild”, conjures up serious conversations. There’s also that sense of entertainment when I sit by the fire. When I talk to people I usually try to look them in the eye when we converse. However, when I’m fireside I invariably stare into the flames.

Bluebird & Flame

Not a Caveman

Caveman TV.

The best part of Caveman TV is that it also smells great. Everyone’s got their opinion as to the best wood for a campfire and if you don’t think Juniper/Cedar is the best then you’re working off Fake News…i.e. you’re wrong. J/K – pine smells pretty good too. It’s the most common wood in my fire-rings if only because it’s usually the most prolific in the areas I camp. But when I have cedar or juniper I generally bathe in the smoke.

That would make a great cologne – Juniper Fire!

Smoky BearThe problem with fire is when people don’t respect the flame. Sure, we all know about Smokey Bear. He started off as a real bear when a cub was saved by a forest dude, then turned into an anthropomorphic Ursidae to warn people about the dangers of fire. Unfortunately not everyone is as careful or knowledgeable about how long a campfire will remain dangerous.

I’ve seen many people be surprised at how hot the embers are the morning after, when they invariably didn’t actually extinguish the coals. Shit, I’ve been guilty of going to bed w/o properly dealing with the fireplace. Today, I’m far more cognizant about the dangers.

While I’m out here playing the part of homeless gypsy I met the Fire Prevention Supervisor for Coconino County. What I take for granted, fire safety, he has to constantly deal with. Mostly in the summers though, when things are warm and dry. I spoke with him just the other day and apparently there were 34 fires during the fire-ban. One of them was left unattended and it started a small fire. Luckily the fire-crews are on top of shit right now.

And that’s just from some idiots that didn’t respect the potential for fire. The result of this apathy and ignorance is forest fires. Some are easily contained, others aren’t; in fact, sometimes they cost people their lives and property. All because of someone not giving enough of a shit.

I still love fire though. Most, if not all, of the national forests have fire restrictions in place. I don’t mind though. As much as I love a fire, it isn’t just about the flame. It’s about what a campfire does – it brings people together, to cook and communicate.

See you outside.

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Pine trees.  Nothing is more synonymous to “mountains” than a pine tree.  In fact, when people wax on about how much they love the mountains, they invariably mention the smell of the pines.  I think that’s why I still purchase live Christmas trees as opposed to a fake one, the smell.

I love the smell of pine trees so much that I even like the smell of pine-sol.  It’s a good thing, too, because when I was in the Marine Corps Pine-Sol was the cleanser we used on every surface.  In boot camp we would somehow get in trouble and be forced to clean our shower area.  The area was probably 20’x20’ but all 70 of us would cram in there with our scrub brushes; the DI would turn the hot water on in the shower and get it all steamy.  Then he’d indiscriminately spread the pine-sol.

Some of us would be crammed up against the walls while others were stuffed into whatever space they could get to while on their knees.  We’d be scrubbing away and the DI would scream “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB!”, we’d reply “SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, AYE AYE SIR!!”.

That’s how we cleaned our entire squad bay and bathroom & shower area once a week.

I still love the smell of Pine-Sol.

But I love the smell of real pine trees even more.  One of my favorite pine trees is the Ponderosa Pine.  This single species is solely responsible for the founding of Flagstaff.  Way back when, before microwaves and telephones “they” were building a railroad.  As the tracks were laid the workers would move their existence along as they went.  Occasionally a town would grow enough to take hold.

Flagstaff was one of those towns.  As the construction came by the San Francisco Peaks some smart guys realized that the surrounding forest was perfect for a crucial natural resource…wood.  That wood was the Ponderosa Pine.  On July 4, 1876 the lumberjacks stripped a huge pine of its branches and ran Old Glory up.  They named the settlement…well, Flagstaff.

The pine tree is also known as the Bull Pine, the Blackjack Pine (on account of its black bark when young) and the Western Yellow Pine.  Older trees take on a copper/black bark that splits, and is layered, almost like someone stacked a bunch of puzzle pieces together.  The bark acts as a fire retardant.  When a forest fire comes through, the outer strata take the heat and burn, but protecting the layers below.  

One of my favorite features of the Ponderosa is the smell of the bark.  Some of you know about this, hopefully some of you will discover this is true.  But the next time you’re in a Ponderosa Pine Forest when it’s warm, pick a large, copper-ish healthy tree and head to the side that’s in the sun.  Stick your nose right up in there like you’re trying to breathe only tree.

It will smell like butterscotch or vanilla.  Some might think it smells like cinnamon or coconut.

I happen to be camping north of Flagstaff staying out of the end-of-times heat that The Valley of the Sun is about to endure.  I have this small pine tree right outside my door.  It says hello to me every single I day.  This is the time of year when it apparently starts to set its cones.  Ponderosa pine regenerates by seed, with cones maturing in a two-year cycle. The tree flowers from April to June of the first year, and cones mature and shed seeds in August and September of the second year. Seeds are relatively small (7,000 to 23,000 in one pound) and fall only about 100 feet from the parent tree.

One of my favorite features of pine trees is that when they fall and are left to decay, the abundant sap sinks toward the core of the trunk.  Over time, as the outer layers of woo fall away, you might find this core of sap-soaked wood.  It is called Fatwood and it’s great for starting fires.  

Collect a decent sized chunk; when you want to start a fire just scrape some “sawdust” onto a hard surface.  Once you have a thimble-sized pile, pinch it to compress it; you can then move it onto a dry flammable pile of something…we call that “duff”.  Take your ferrocerium rod and get to sparking.  The 3000 degree sparks will catch the fatwood on fire, and in turn it’ll ignite your small bundle.  Carefully transfer this to your waiting pile of small twigs, etc, and voila!

As I write this there is a heat-wave and high-pressure system moving through Arizona.  In Phoenix, they’re predicting temperatures over 120 for next week.  The news stations in the high country are also in a panic…it’s supposedly going to set some records in Flagstaff, hitting 95 or higher.

My point forecast for the coming week is telling me that it’s going to be a blistering 87F.  I don’t know how the pioneers ever survived this, what with crappy digital reception, being hunted by Apaches and their famous wooden underwear.

I’ll do my best.  You can bet that I’ll be huffing pine bark though.

See you outside.