A Better Way to Build a Camp Fire


I’m not sure when the earliest humans began to use fire to cook their food, heat their living spaces and provide nighttime lighting. Some research points as far back as 1 million years. The accepted belief is that fire was discovered, not invented, perhaps started by lightning. However it came to be, at some point, our ancestors learned to start and control fire. Those first controlled fires were built of wood.

For thousands of generations, until relatively modern times, wood fires have provided comfort, light and a means to cook food.

It is difficult, today, to sit by a camp fire at night without being caught in a hypnotic stare. The surrounding darkness is meaningless; the fire becomes the sole focus of our eyes and minds at the time.

Building a camp fire is pretty easy if you don’t let your intuition get in the way. Most people, whether building a camp fire or a fire in a wood burning stove or fireplace, know that heat rises. Intuitively, they assume that the fire should be started at the bottom of a stack using paper and small kindling at the bottom, and building a stack or pyramid of increasingly larger twigs, limbs and logs. Then they ignite the paper and let the rising heat ignite the larger pieces above the starting point. This way works, but it isn’t the best way.

There is another and better way to build a fire that will burn slower, hotter and put out much less smoke. You build the stack upside down from what your intuition tells you. You place the larger logs on the bottom, and start building a stack or pyramid with increasinglyUpside down campfire smaller limbs and twigs. Finally you place some paper, tied in knots (to provide some density), on top and surround the knots with some tiny twigs. Then, you ignite the paper at the top and watch with amazement at what happens.

As the paper begins to burn, the small twigs adjacent to the paper also ignite. The heat from the paper and twigs starts heating the slightly larger twigs beneath them to the point they start to release gas that ignites. This is the stuff that would be going up as smoke if you had started at the bottom. Usually these flammable gasses are too cool to ignite and they escape with the smoke. With this technique, your fire ignites the gasses before they escape with the smoke. You can actually see small flames forming in the air as the gasses ignite above the unburned wood. The burning gas is a clean burn with minimal smoke, with greater heat that then heats the larger twigs and limbs beneath them. They, also, start to release gas that ignites. Hot ashes and sparks from the exhausted burn at the top begin to fall into the stack to create heat that releases even more gas. As this gas rises it is ignited by the flames above. This process continues slowly downward consuming every piece of wood encountered.

I didn’t believe it either when I first heard about this way of building a fire. I’m pretty scientific and I knew this wouldn’t work. Eventually, I tried it and I’ve never built a fire any other way since. Try it the next time you build a fire, whether in a fireplace, wood burning stove or campground. You’ll never go back to the other smoky way either.

Early to Bed …

Ben Franklin is credited with the quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.  Did Ben Franklin know something in the 18th century that we’re having to learn all over again? Another Primal Way?

I don’t know about the “wealthy” part, but health (physical and mental) is being directly linked by many researchers to the quantity and quality of our sleep.  Adequate sleep is absolutely essential to restoring and maintaining our states of health. To the extent that we can stay healthy, we’ll spend fewer dollars on medical costs and maybe keep a little more wealth as well. Adequate sleep is an inexpensive solution to much of what ails us.

Modern lifestyles are damaging our ability to sleep. That isn’t to say that some people don’t have medical issues that interfere with their sleep and for them, good medical attention by their doctor is proper. Most of the rest of us, however, are sleep deprived for non-medical reasons that may have medical consequences.

Blue light exposure, after sunset, is one of the causes of many people’s sleep difficulties. primalways7Here’s why. Sleepiness is triggered, and resultant sleep is maintained, by the body’s natural release of melatonin from the pineal gland when daylight has faded. Blue light is a major facet of daylight and will shut off melatonin release. When blue light is removed and it is night, we become sleepy.  When blue light returns at sunrise, we start to become more alert.

Now, however, blue light doesn’t go away at sunset. We maintain our exposure to blue light well into the evening with computers, phones, televisions and much of our lighting. Our exposure to blue light effectively shuts off our body’s natural, primal way of transitioning to sleep. Sleepiness may still come, eventually, from carbohydrate snacking or from pills, but it isn’t the sustained sleep the body needs for health.

Ideally, we will know these facts and adopt lifestyles that turn off the blue light sources when the sun goes down and we allow our bodies to enjoy the sleep it needs. To the extent we can do that, the healthier we will be.

Knowing that few of us will do the ideal thing, adopt the Primal Way, there are some things we can do to help mitigate the impact of blue light in our nighttime environment. Go yellow! Go red! There’s a reason why outdoor yellow lights don’t attract insects. Insects don’t see them. Apparently, neither does the pineal gland respond to yellow or red, like it does to blue.

Avoid looking at light at night, other than yellow or red. Use bulbs in your lamps at night that have a warm yellow hue.  Don’t buy daylight or cool blue bulbs. If you use low level nightlights, pure yellow or red work well.

If you must use your computer at night, there are things you can do. Wear yellow, amber or red colored glasses. Even inexpensive yellow driving glasses will filter out enough blue light to help. There are also fairly expensive glasses promoted as “blueblockers” that will remove all of the blue from the light you see. Most computer monitors have buttons on them that can be used to change the color mix of the screen. You can reduce the blue. Your TV color mix can also be adjusted to filter out the blue.

Colored glasses are more convenient.  With any approach, your nighttime environment will have a greenish yellow appearance and you’ll not enjoy the vibrant colors of your computers and televisions, but you will have gone back to an old path when sleep was recognized as the key to health and wisdom. Maybe wealth as well.

Come morning, go blue again.  It will make you alert.

Old Paths … New Journeys


primalways9This is the tag line for this journey.  Are there old pathways that we have abandoned in this technological age that were better than the ones we’re on today?

Many people say so.  Are they  just stuck in “the good old days”?  Or, is there truth to be rediscovered?

Let’s discard the belief that the “good old days” were very good.  There were times when things were good and other times when things were not good.  But even in the best of their times, life was hard; much harder than life is today.  Most of us could not physically or mentally survive “the good old days”.

Past generations were adapted and accustomed to hard lives, long hours of work, inequality, oppression, wars, extreme weather cycles, little (if any) government assistance, no retirement options, no insurance, primitive medical care and many other challenges. How did they do it? How did they manage to lead meaningful and productive lives, raise their families and keep their sanity with so many difficulties and without the assistance of the advances and technology of our day?

Society has existed for a long time.  It wasn’t just born in this age of technology. In one form or another, civilization has endured for thousands of generations. They got us here, to today. I believe they had pathways through life that we have forgotten or abandoned. They had competitive advantages that tempered and hardened them to survive and thrive in whatever physical, social or economic environment they were in.

Imagine. What if the advantages they had were applied in our lives, in this age? Which of their old pathways might enhance our life experience? Are any of our new pathways today hindering us from thriving in, or surviving, the comparatively diminished hardships we face?