By: Sandy Churchill
There is nothing like a hearth fire in winter, especially in New England. The smoky scents welcome us homeward when arriving from outdoors, and the crackling blazes instantly usher in warmth, family, and the cozy embrace of home.
Our family members are campers at heart, eager to hike, kayak, tent- or cabin-escape to the forest for a head-to-toe recharge of mind, body, and spirit. While snow-camping is still on the horizon for us, we have camped with our amazing scout troop in 23-degree weather, where the morning English muffin was welcomed more as a hand warmer than as breakfast!
Still, we recognize that winter can be a long hiatus from the wonders of outdoor camping—hence the importance of hearth fires. The monochrome days of winter and waning sunlight can be depressing at times, and the early sunsets often make January nights feel like hibernation. Fires have been the companion to reading and games, served as the backdrop for conversations with family and friends, and shored us up for bone-chilling weather or shoveling marathons.
A recent trip to walk around La Salette Shrine to catch the last of the Christmas lights just after New Year’s revealed a couple of outdoor campfires, stoked cheerfully by the gloved and scarved staff members. I noticed a pair of seventy-something women having a delightful conversation by one blaze, and children anticipating s’more-making at a nearby flame. Couples gathered here and there, and single onlookers seemed enthralled with the swirling flames and occasional sparks that danced into the winter sky. Fire is timeless in the human spirit. Whether it’s warmth, light, or the random sparks and crackles that dart into the night, we seem drawn to the blaze.
With hearty souls, an outdoor fire can still heighten the spirit if no indoor fireplace is available. Portable outdoor firepits are becoming increasingly popular, and can still be dragged out of storage if the weather is even a little bit balmy on a New England winter night. We have a neighbor who holds an annual tradition of hosting glorious Christmas tree bonfires in January or February, and friends gather to bask in the blazing heat of the flames and party outdoors.
When all else fails, even a candle flame can whisper of warmth, welcome, and cozy light. The smallest blaze can still soften the sense of the harsh outdoors, and sweeten the chill of winter with a hopeful spirit.