Fire Starters and Reversing Instinct

Fat-wood comes in bags filled with little 6 inch sticks. At the start of this winter, I had a handful leftover from last year, but I find myself using them less and less.

There is an inclination within all of us (humans, mammals, animals, and even plants) to seek comfort. We drive ourselves toward places that are safe from predators, where food is abundant, etc. Each time we figure out a trick in life, we tend to spread that idea, and before long it becomes a necessity.

For those of you born well into the last century, think about cellphones. All but the privileged few had no connection to mass communication through the 80s and 90s. Pagers were the thing when I was in high school. How far technology has come. Now we can’t seem to live without a gadget in our pocket that acts as a flashlight, camera, telephone, GPS navigation system, entertainment studio, and more. I’ve seen old people stop halfway through a parking lot to turn back to their car for their phone. God forbid we’re getting groceries and miss a call or a status update.

For the baby boomers it was washing machines and refrigerators. Before World War II, these simply didn’t exist in every household. Then came televisions with the next generation. Then computers. We discover these clever devices that make our lives so much easier, and then they become the status quo, almost ubiquitously, and we can hardly recall life without them.

Animals do the same thing. I saw a new bird show up in the parking lot of my previous employ, and it was doing something very different from the native bird population. It had learned that cars kill (and partially cook) insects that get trapped in the grill. Every time a new car stopped in the lot, this little monster would fly into the grill and start picking out fresh food. It wasn’t long until the other birds copied the behavior and made it their own. Hunting is so much easier when your meals are delivered warm.

The picture above shows fire sticks, a form of processed resinous pine (processed here meaning cut into little pieces). Each one is about six or eight inches long, and last year I was using a couple of them every time I needed to relight the wood stove.

I progressed from one with a mixture of kindling, to using several in an attempt to get small logs burning fast, with mixed results.

With only a handful left, I mostly ignored them this year, until I tired of finding fresh tinder. Still, even with the bag I just picked up for the year handy, I find myself using them less and less.

I’ve gotten into a habit of chopping up some pine kindling each week, and sometimes before I start a fire, I’ll go a step further and shave a small log down to chips with my hatchet. It’s become normal (and the kittens love chasing the chips that go astray). Unlike the hit-and-miss with using lots of fat wood, I get a fire every time, and the amount of starter I use is decreasing.

I’m not even doing this on purpose. I just hate wasting the stuff, even if it’s only 20 bucks per bag. So now, in addition to chopping up my kindling, I’ve started splitting down my fat wood into smaller pieces, as you can see in the pic. I split them about as thin as I can get them without much effort, and then snap them in half. One piece becomes eight or ten matchsticks.

Instead of evolving toward more and more comfort (fire sticks, lots of fire sticks, fire starter log, blowtorch) I’m tracing myself backwards from where I was last year. In a way, I suppose that’s my thing. Simpler living, less waste, less cost on inputs. But it was a curious thing that I noticed compared to most.

I still have the instinct to seek comfort. I’m a critter just like the rest of the critters. I might be human, but I share parts of my anatomy and thought patterns with them. Yet somehow, at least with a few things in my life, I prefer doing things smaller, with slightly more work and more efficiency.

Simple tools, simple life, and simpler fire. The best part about fat wood is that I don’t necessarily need to buy it. With any luck, some of the pine stumps around here will turn into it in time, and I can harvest my own. As I migrate toward using less and less of it, the value of such harvests will increase tremendously.

If only I could be so resourceful in all areas of my life.


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