I’m not sure what it was about a camp fire that captivated me so much as a kid. Maybe it was the soft flicker of light that it gave off against the night sky – the kind of light that you can still see behind sleepy eyelids, casting a warm glow on all those just inside its reach. Perhaps it was the sound of the crackling logs, filling in as background noise between pauses in a string of tales told and retold around the circle for generations. Or maybe it was just the company – a mixture of recurring characters playing familiar roles combined with guests invited to share new anecdotes, or more likely, serve as a fresh audience for an old yarn. It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the campfire’s alluring nature in my youth, but if I had to choose, it was probably the voices of our tribe – family and friends – that kept me sitting around it’s blazing glory long after bedtime. Without fail, I’d drift off to the sound of my Grandpa talking about Alaska or my Dad and his buddies recalling the glory days of football and fall nights in our small town, and inevitably have to be carried into the house, wrapped in my father’s flannel coat with a soft dusting of embers in my hair. Growing up, fires meant stories – and I couldn’t get enough.
That connection to the collective nature of a campfire didn’t end when I left home. I longed for those crisp nights of my childhood and frequently returned to join in the tradition that continued, season after season, regardless of busy schedules in a bustling world. And the fire traveled, from the woods of Madron Lake Road to the banks of the St. Joseph River, to bear camp in the Western U.P., and many places in between. Wherever we gathered, there was a fire. And where there was a fire, there were memories – told in the oral traditions of our ancestors and passed down from the Fire Keepers to the newest members of the tribe, to be kept and treasured and remembered. The Fire Keepers were the eldest of the group, men like Grandpa Jack and Grandpa Dodson, who kept the fire going as the younger men and women traveled out into the woods and would have it stoked and ready when they returned with tales of the hunt. The Fire Keepers maintain the legends and traditions – and it is up to the next in line to keep the fire, and their memories, burning strong long after they’ve left the circle.
I’ll never forget the wintery night that I spent curled up in front of the fireplace in my parent’s old farmhouse, sleeping beside my little brother who had already spent countless nights amongst the Keepers. My Dad stoked the fire and loaded it up one last time before retiring to bed for the night, reminding me to throw a few logs on during the night to keep it going. At some point during the darkest hours, I distinctly remember the heavy footsteps of a man walking toward us and gruffly saying, “That boy needs another blanket,” as I felt the weight of a warm quilt being placed on top of us. Soon after, the creak of the fireplace door opened and more wood was added, casting a familiar glow that warmed us from head to toe and cradled us back to sleep. I woke the next morning feeling rested and thanked my Dad for putting an extra blanket on us and taking the role of Fire Keeper during the cold night so I didn’t have to escape my blankets. His reaction was one of bewilderment as he informed me that he didn’t put any wood on the fire during the night and he wasn’t responsible for the extra layer of warmth either. To this day, we can only attribute that act of love to Grandpa Jack – a soft man with a gruff voice who’d been the Keeper of the Fire and protector of my little brother before his passing just months prior. The fire is what unites the tribe, and the memories are what keeps it going.
And there are plenty of other stories that play out on nature’s stage, framed by the tall Oaks and the sugary Maples. Tales of triumph over tragedy, courage over adversity, and grit over insurmountable odds. There are narratives of small town heroes who masquerade as average folks and accounts so incredible that you had to be there to believe it, as told by those who were. Some of the stories grow with the years, becoming more legendary each season with new details added for any new visitors to the circle. (But a little embellishment never hurt anybody…as fishermen know, there’s no reason to let facts get in the way of a good story.) Sometimes the mood is humorous – a recounting of pranks or boyhood adventures. Sometimes it’s nostalgic – romantic accounts of young love taking root or Homecoming victories against small town rivals. And sometimes it’s inspiring – feats of fearlessness or acts of valor. But what all of the tales have in common are the connections they create between the storyteller and the audience.
There is just something about the opening of one’s heart that pours out through their words, to be shared with those willing to listen to the experience and learn from it. You can’t get that kind of raw connection anywhere else, and it’s something that we, as human beings, have craved since the beginning of time. In our over-scheduled and overcommitted world, we easily replace the human connection that is forged in fire with comments, likes, and clicks. But to maintain the precious memories and traditions of those before us and those here now, we have to keep the fire going and offer an opportunity for them to tell their tales.
That is where Fire Keepers Memories comes in. We offer the fire, you offer the stories. We believe that the memories of our loved ones and the stories of our small towns should be recorded and saved and added to for the future fire tenders. We provide a virtual repository, a digital fire if you will, to keep those memories alive and share them with those who would love to sit around the fire with the storyteller, if only time and place would allow. And, just like at a real camp fire, those who know you and love you can add to your story and jump in with details to add even more color to the narrative. Everyone has a story to tell and people who would love to hear it. Let’s save those memories from fading into the embers.
We’ll keep the fire going, just pull up a chair and tell us your story.