An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 30, 2010
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

CAMPFIRES & THE MIDDLE PATH

Last winter I missed my campfires. Building a fire next to the old church just didn't seem right. By the time the fellows finished the hut I'm in now it was too hot for fires. However, now with the rainy season getting underway, on some afternoons after a good storm when the air is very humid and almost halfway coolish, fixing a hot meal with a campfire can seem like a good idea.

My main campfire meal nowadays is prepared by sautéing a big onion, a habenero pepper and a big handful of Chaya leaves (you could use fresh spinach), adding a little Maseca (finely ground cornmeal used to make tortillas) and water to make a kind of onion gravy, then atop that I snip a handful of fresh basil and a tomato, and spritz with vinegar.

Building a campfire should be a ceremonial process. I've seen people throw together stuff to burn, splash kerosene on it, and poof a fire into existence but to me that misses the point. A fire ought to be summoned, then nurtured until you're comfortable with it, used with respect, and then thanked as its coals are dispersed.

Campfires teach us plenty about life in general. For example, to get the fire going you start small, choosing dry material that'll catch easily. Once you have a flame going, start adding larger pieces to burn.If it takes more than one match, you're in too much of a hurry, not paying attention, or just not in a good time or place for making a fire. A campfire about to come into existence is like a guru demanding that you focus yourself and be honest about what you really want to be doing.

My fires consist of a circle of twigs, each with one end pointing inwards. The fire burns at the center. Typically just one twig or stick of kindling by itself won't burn. You need several together, each twig's fire feeding off of and contributing to the others'. As the twigs burn, you keep shoving them toward the center, keeping the communal flame alive. There's a good lesson there and kids who grow up never seeing how it works miss one of life's most powerful teaching opportunities.

There's even a teaching moment when I hear from others who bring up the matter of how much air pollution I'm creating with my campfires, how I ought to let the organic matter recycle in the forest ecosystem, and how if I were a "real environmentalist" I'd eat my food raw. This teaching deals with the Middle Path.

For, the Middle Path isn't notch five on a thermostat with notches zero to ten, not half drunk instead of whole drunk, and not apolitical instead of extreme right or extreme left. The Middle Path is its own thing not defined by other people's fixed reference points. It's what comes into a life when you sensitize yourself to the world around you, then calmly listen to your inner voice and do as it advises.

This approach to life, I have found, automatically filters out unsustainable behaviors, and in my mind the sustainable lifestyle equals the Middle Path, wherever that path leads.

And these days on coolish afternoons after a good storm, my Middle Path is to sauté onions and make gravy over a twig campfire, while white smoke drifts between the cracks of my hut's walls.  Facebook Icon.