A Night By The Fire With No Sleeping Bag Or Blanket

Fire alongside a remote lake in northern Maine

It is Friday of week 8 (of 9) on the fall, 2023 Wilderness Bushcraft Semester. Everyone has been hard at work and the finish line is coming into view. What remains to finish are some practical exams, the solo, and a night spent in front of a fire with no sleeping bag or blanket.

The night in front of a fire is an advanced exercise that demonstrates mastery of fire and an understanding of the physics of using a fire with a small shelter to create a microclimate to stay warm in the cold. It is a great exercise for this time of year when the temperatures are near the freezing mark. This means no bugs, but no snow either, so a good introduction to the skill set.

There are certain lessons where the only way to learn them is to go and do it. This is one such lesson. Going into the experience people have lots of questions about how much wood they need, how often they will have to adjust the fire, what types of wood to use, etc. For the past eight weeks they have been living and cooking with fire, building shelters, etc., so they have acquired a lot of knowledge about such things.

But the questions persist. I know that they won’t learn from my answers, they will learn by doing it. So I have responded to their questions by referring them back to things they have already done and experiences they have already had, and to quote my old friend David Bosum. On a summer canoe trip in northern Quebec in 2007, one of the students was asking him lots of questions about how he did things in the winter. He politely answered the first two questions, then stopped and said, “The action will answer all of your questions.”

With some things, especially when the goal is deep knowledge, the only way to learn and know is to go and do it. That is what we are preparing for today, and will be experiencing tonight. Because they haven’t yet completed the exercise, asking me about it helps to massage the anxiety of the unknown. But as long as it remains unknown, that anxiety will persist. The way to eliminate it for good is to have the experience. Tben they won’t need to ask questions because they will know.


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