A tribal ‘Darkle’ by the fire | News, Sports, Jobs


Last week a group of us “obscured”.

i love the word “dark”. It captures the process of twilight turning into the dead of night.

The experience was…tribal.

It took me back to the campfires of old (another cool word). And I wonder…did gathering around a crackling fire in complete darkness bring my memories or instincts back even further, before I was born?

Last weekend, a dozen of us overwhelmed wrapped up a birthday bash by getting closer and closer to our stallion-scale ring of fire.

The children had started the fire, the adults guiding (and sometimes misleading) their efforts to put kindling inside the sticks, then add heavier split rounds, eventually igniting against full-sized logs . The children learned; we adults hung around, mostly offering verbal instructions without doing any work ourselves.

In one or two, participants stood up, shook hands or hugged, and then left. Our remnant circled closer and closer to the fire, replenishing the flames with split hardwood from my cache in raw wooden pallets.

We laughed, loudly at first, then burst out laughing. As the flames flared and shrank, we slumped in plastic Adirondacks and sackcloth chairs. We gradually lost sight of the neighboring house and barn, the fields and trees of the picnic grove. The tranquility prolonged the interstices of our chatter.

At around 10:30 a.m., he was “U.S. against them” again, hominids, hunched over and huddled against forces out there in the dark that intended to destroy us, maybe even eat us, or so it seemed.

No one was eating, except for one or two in-flight refuelings. But humans crowd and huddle in those late-night moments.

City dwellers or rural hermits, elementary school kids and geezers, we all huddle together, squatting or slouching without formal instructions or announcements.

Nobody says, “It’s time to snuggle up!”

We just do it.

Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal probably did the same, using the flames of fire to warm up, get closer, and even, in a pinch, weaponize. Long branches with dark red pulsing coals and orange flame fangs would help deter saber-toothed tigers.

None of this was said, of course. Two hundred thousand years of repetition make the ritual of campfire gatherings as banal as breathing, as comforting as the sweatshirts we put on against the cold.

Routine comes naturally, universally.

Our “tribe” varied. A nuclear family; a neighborhood rally; relatives coming from long and short distances; maybe a passerby or two, greeted “Come here; have a beer!”

Fortunately the “their” which we protect ourselves is only a fictitious memory of nights that are eternities away from today. A possum, a raccoon, maybe a bear might pass, although they almost never do. Nothing dreadful remains. Wolves, cougars, or enemy tribes only exist in the history books, not in the evenings of west-central Pennsylvania.

But still, we keep our loved ones. Friends of acquaintances become tribal, part of “we” for the night. Gathering around a night fire is an opportunity for common defense,

We talk about things that unite us. Childhood memories of Lincoln logs and rag dolls in the homes of long-dead grandparents blend into present-day plans for college or summer trips to the beach.

The warm, raspy laughter that accompanied our verbal sparring while daylight still reigned in the sky softened to nods and laughter, softer phrases and single-syllable punctuation sounds, matching here, contemplating there.

I remember campfires from so long ago that I can’t really remember them. Instead, I recreate some scenes from the family legends I was told as a child about an uncle returning from the war, a cousin bringing in his new spouse for inspection.

Some of those campfires weren’t even in the camps. People gather around grills, whether they are charcoal or propane. We huddle next to stone fireplaces or metal hearths. Sometimes the lights aren’t even on the ground, shining and flickering from porches or side yards.

I don’t have to tell you about the campfires. You know. We all know, or knew, or our ancestors did.

In college, I was taught the “clean slate” (blank board) human development theory. He says that everything we learn enters our consciousness after we are born, not before.

Say that at the campfire. Wordsworth denied this two centuries ago, reflecting on immortality:

The soul that rises with us, the star of our life

Has had its frame elsewhere

And comes from afar;

Not in total oblivion,

And not in total nudity,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

See? We remember before we were born.

All we have to do to find those sons is sit around a campfire again and make “dark”.

Denny Bonavita is a former newspaper editor/publisher in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: [email protected]



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