Two kinds of fires…

Please consider this my humble attempt at a supplement to Steve Watts’ excellent article on the Camp Stove vs. Camp Fire.  In that article, Steve quotes Ernest Thompson Seton in favor of the campfire. Here is a great story about (and pictures of) Seton educating men (and boys) on fire in the traditional way.

From the Fire-Craft chapter of Bernard S. Mason’s excellent book, Woodcraft & Camping, originally published under the title of Woodcraft in 1939…


Why? – in a world of matches? Ernest Thompson Seton answered well when a group of “practical” business-men questioned his zest for the rubbing-stick fire — said he, pointing to the ground, “You are thinking of the fire that is lighted down there,” and pointing to his breast, continued, “I am thinking of the flame that is kindled in here!”

Impractical it is only to staid, prosaic oldsters who have forgotten that enchanted world of dreams called childhood!

Struggling for weeks and months — a year — before the days when commercial fire-by-friction sets came wrapped up in packages, experimenting and failing with countless woods and tinders, filling my room with a perpetual incense of woodsmoke that in itself was reward, I still recall that fervent youthful day when tiny coal turned to flame! — and happily the fire it kindled has never died! Must you say it is impractical?

But what of the fire that is lighted down there on the ground? As an emergency method of making fire in the woods, the conditions demanding it will seldom, perhaps never, occur, but many of us have demonstrated that, starting from scratch, an outfit can be made in the woods and fire produced within half an hour. Certain it is that if one’s notches were ruined in the far wilds he would not need to go without fire, even though the task of locating the right wood and making the set were a long one — he would surely admit it was worth it, however long. The Indians who relied on the rubbing-stick fire carried the outfit with them, but so would you and I, if so caught, after one we have one made.

Seton-Lighting-FireBut while those fires will be few, if any, the learning of the way will kindle myriad fires – in the breasts of youth. And as a result countless hundreds fires will be lighted with matches in the wilds throughout long lives of outdoor living, fire that, had the rubbing-stick way not been learned, might never have been kindled. And pictures in the rising smoke will be seen where otherwise there would be none.



Thank you David Wescott and Steve Watts for the Seton addition to this article!

About Christian Noble

Chris Noble is the founder of and Woodsmoke Camping Company. A Master Naturalist, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and has worked as a Registered Forester and Certified Burn Manager in several states. Chris is also a Wilderness First Responder and since the late 90’s has been “practicing primitive” skills and taking lessons from numerous Master Woodsmen throughout North America. An advocate for Conservation, teacher of Wilderness Living Skills, and happily married, he enjoys passing what he has learned thus far to others, especially his 2 children, Emerson and Duncan.

One Response to Two kinds of fires…