There's something about sitting around a fire on an Autumn night. Maybe it's the cold air in contrast with the heat of the flames. Maybe it's something more animalistic, something instinctual.
In the ancient world, fire meant safety. A good fire protects you from predators. It protects you from the cold. In the modern world...a backyard fire is little more than an opportunity to put the phones face down, look at the face of the person sitting across from you and talk.
But maybe something ancient was internalized by mankind because I find I seldom feel more relaxed than I do sitting around a fire pit with a cup of coffee, something good to eat and those I love huddled nearby.
I thought about this on Saturday, as I sat with my family in my backyard. Since it's October, my six-year-old son, Jeffrey, insisted we tell spooky stories.
I told him the scariest story I could think of. "One day, you will have to work, and you will have to pay bills!"
He wasn't scared. We watched the bats flutter overhead. Listened to the insects warble in the trees. Even the teenagers came out of their dungeons to talk to us.
It made me wonder...why is life better around the campfire? We have all these creature comforts—televisions, computers, phones, air conditioning and heaters—but none of them come close to providing the same kind of comfort I get from a campfire.
I've spent all weekend thinking about it, and this list represents the best I can come up with.
1. It's real
In this world, there's real and there's artificial.
Artificial sweeteners may trick your brain to help you slurp down a diet soda, but you know it's not real. Eat a piece of chocolate cake with real sugar and tell me the fake stuff is any kind of substitute.
And it's not just food. There's fakers, who manipulate you for their own advantage. There's platitudes and other falsities that try and exchange reality for reality.
It's the same with the campfire. It's real and tangible. It keeps you warm, but it can hurt you, too. It protects, but it destroys. And we don't imagine it to be otherwise.
There's something authentic about huddling around the flames, the dark pressing in, the cold all around you. You can let your guard down and be authentic with those who matter to you the most.
2. The food tastes better
Food cooked over fire, with smoke and little burn marks all over it, tastes ten-thousand times better than something cooked in the microwave.
3. Zen and Nostalgia
My father got the fire going when I was young. If we were camping, I was gathering sticks for kindling, but Dad was setting the thing ablaze. Sitting by the fire takes me back immediately. And inevitably, there comes the moment when everyone stops talking, their eyes transfixed by the dancing flames, the stars overhead. Wherever you go mentally in the quiet moments, is there for the taking. And because you feel safe...maybe, just maybe...you can share it with the people around you.