In 1988 when I wrote Spring Comes to the Desert Southwest -- still online at http://www.backyardnature.net/desert/ --
I quickly learned that in the desert daytime temperatures may soar, then at dusk plummet
for a really cold night. Atmospheric humidity acts as a buffer against temperature
Nowadays here in the Yucatan at the beginning of the dry season it's getting to be the
same. Afternoons with temperatures in the low 90s can alternate with nights when I'm glad
to have a well insulated sleeping bag. And glad, when I return from my predawn jogs, for a
breakfast campfire to sit by.
For, there's something transcendent about a campfire on a chilly morning. Maybe it's
because as we humans evolved we were intimately involved with campfires, the fires
frightening off predators, sanitizing and making edible our food, and warming us.
Moreover, for millions of years campfires were the most tangible proof we humans had that
we might be something different from everything around us, for only we of all the animals
of savanna and forest could domesticate fire.
In fact, sometimes I think that campfires have been so important to human evolution
that maybe we're genetically predisposed to feel the special sense of ease and
satisfaction that I feel on these chilly mornings next to the fire. Maybe the feeling is
adaptive, to encourage us to go to the trouble of making the fires.
When a well-built campfire is burning, flames all around at the fire's edge bend inward
as air sweeps in to be heated and shot upward in the fire's center, toward the pot's
bottom. This in-sucking process reminds me of the Maya belief that at nightfall the many
forms of energy that have collected on the land during the day begin converging on the
Maya hut. As people fall asleep inside the hut, the day's gathering energies surge up the
hut's walls, and the roof's sloping sides focus them at the comb. At the roof's peak the
energies concentrate to such an intensity that they discharge into the sky, carrying with
them the spirits of sleepers inside the hut. Our dreams are our experiences in far-away
places, times and dimensions, where these wandering energies scatter us.
Maybe the well-built campfire sucking in air from all around, heating it and shooting
it upward inspired this beautiful concept incorporating the hut, energy and human
dreaming; maybe the campfire was the subconscious model around which the dream-travel
If the campfire is a metaphor for the Maya belief in dream-travel, then these words and
the thoughts flickering in your own mind as you digest what I'm saying and filter them
through your own way of seeing things -- are metaphors of same.
In fact, the campfire frame of mind can accept that everything is a metaphor for
everything else, and when you reach that insight you can just keep sitting and sitting,
staring into the flames.