THE CAMPFIRE RING
I turned the pickup’s motor off. I stretched out my arms and took a deep breath of the mountain air. Uncoiling my body from the cab, after a fifteen-hour drive, I stepped out of the truck into a campsite as familiar as my living room. After all, we have hunted out of this camp for many years.
Nestled in the lodgepoles and aspens was a camp that generations of camp planners had approved of in function and design. The tent goes here, ice chest over there, and here, in the center, a campfire ring. I suppose some innovative camp planners may have tried to put the campfire ring elsewhere but it always came back to this perfect spot.
This was the last week of the archery elk hunt in the Colorado Rockies. Some muzzleloaders had just ended their hunt and left “MY” campsite a mess. I could tell they had been successful by the debris [elk legs] they left scattered around camp. Chicken bones and eggshells littered the site along with a few discarded propane cylinders.
I’ll bet that campfire ring has seen a lot over the years, the good campers and the bad. If it could talk, what stories would it share?
Would it talk of the young family on its first summer camping trip? They picked this spot for the great view.
The heat from the campfire burned a blackened shell on the marshmallows just right for s’mores. I’ll bet the children marveled at all the stars in the night sky.
The campfire ring was here when Great Grandpa walked up the mountain on strong legs with a homemade packframe on his back.
He would cut a blaze on the trees marking the way back to his downed elk. Three trips later he would have all the meat packed out.
That campfire ring was here when Grandpa uses his new scoped rifle to bag his first elk. Then, just like his father showed him, he used his G.I. surplus pack frame to pack it out, marking his way with red yarn tied to the trees.
Young hunters on their first hunt would sit around that ring and listen, as Great Grandpa would share stories of the hunts of yesteryear. He would tell them just how “ green” in the ways of the woods their dad once was. Giddy with anticipation, the young hunters would talk in their sleeping bags till the crackling fire was reduced to glowing embers. The smell of leather and gun cleaning solvent still lingered in the night air.
I wondered how many pots of coffee boiled by that fire ring and brought sleepy camps to life? Ventures into culinary excellence can be recalled, like savory flame broiled steaks and biscuits done just right. There were occasional failures like Uncle Joe’s burnt cornbread.
I remember complaining around that fire ring the first time my legs felt the burn of packing out my elk. I marked my trail out with biodegradable surveyor’s tape.
Now, Great Grandpa no longer hunts, he can’t breathe at this elevation. Grandpa listens as his grandson explains how this new GPS [global positioning satellite] will guide him back to that downed elk every time, as long as the batteries hold out!
That campfire ring knows the sound of Grandpa’s new four-wheeler. His legs aren’t as strong as they once were.
Stainless steel magnum rifles with composite stocks now lean in the gun rack near the tree by the fire ring.
Laser rangefinders and carbon arrows have been visiting the fire ring for the last few years. Meals around the campfire are changing too. Can you say MRE [meals ready to eat] or freeze dried?
Several camps of hunters have been here each year for the last fifty or more years.
Some have carved their names and dates on the bark of the Aspens near by.
Men have laughed and cried around this ring, been thrilled by the hunt, or disappointed by it.
Some have bartered with God for a chance to beat a cancer so they might have the time to teach a grandson the ways of the woods. Others lament lost loves.
Lifelong friendships have been made around this campfire ring.
Seasons come and seasons go and each year the hunters return to this site. The campfire ring is here for them all.
We cleaned up the camp and hunted hard. The elk didn’t bugle very much during our season. The weather was very hot and dry this year.
Although our pick up load will be shy the weight of an elk for the trip home, we had a great time at this camp. I especially liked our evenings around the campfire ring.
When we packed up to leave I took special care to clean out the campfire ring and arrange its stones. We will be back next year. Maybe I’ll bring my grandson.
Three generation from now when someone uses this campfire ring I hope they will consider those who were here before them, and those who will follow.
Do you consider those who will follow? As conscientious hunters we all should!