I went on a camping trip with my sons and grandsons deep into the White Mountains of Arizona, into the heart of Apache country. Reservation Lake is a pristine blue pearl at the base of Mount Baldy. It is accessible only by 26 miles of dirt road; you really have to want to get there. “Rez” Lake is surrounded by a dense forest of aspen and ponderosa; wildlife abounds with elk, deer, eagle, osprey, mountain lion, and bear, and the lake always has fish.
This was my eight-year-old Golden Boy’s first camping and fishing trip; bliss can hardly describe the perpetual smile on his face. He caught fish, learned how to clean them, got dirty, ate s’mores, and listened late into the night to stories around the campfire. There is something about a brilliant night sky, the noises of the woods, the wind through the trees, and being alone in a forest that just makes stories more real.
Some of those stories were mysterious and filled with mayhem and dread. Surrounded by dark forest, one can feel the presence of those old Apache warriors whose spirits still roam here. In the wind and forest sounds, one can almost hear their voices lamenting their fate at the hands of the white man. Fierce fighters who would like nothing more than to seek revenge on the descendants of their tormentors. The Apache always had an attraction for the young plump white men, who were always the tastiest . . . (you get the picture of where this story is going).
One night, after dinner, the fire had died down and only coals remained. My 16-year-old, Red Boy, was the fire chief so he collected some kindling to ignite the flames, and then sat in his chair and blew down on the fire. When the fire didn’t burst into flame, he got up to get some paper. I tried to embarrass him saying only a white man would use paper to light those coals. I told him to get down on the ground and blow under those coals not down on it. So he made a couple more cursory attempts until he got short of breath, and then got up to get some paper; the wood blazed in moments.
Sitting around the dancing flames (the devil made me do it), I launched into a soliloquy that this isn’t just about the paper. It is about not always getting what you want when you want it. Some good things take time; you have to work at them which is part of its goodness…yada, yada, yada. Then I closed with a chorus of “You can’t always get what you want.” When I finished, he looked at me and said, “You were born before paper was invented, this is how we do it now”.
We laughed, and I realized every time I go into the woods and sit around that Grandfather Fire, I hear a new ending to an old story. There are many ways to light the fire and to keep it burning before it’s time to be extinguished.