Back to Nature (Published on - Dec. 29, 2004)
Memories sparked by the glow of a winter fire
The glow from the winter fire warmed the clear starry night sky. Soft soled mukluks and a goat skinned coat pulled up tight against the steadily dropping temperatures kept the knifesharp cold at bay. Winter came early here in the Canadian Rockies. Snow began to fall in early September and each night a new layer of pure, sparkling white blanketed the forest floor.

The log cabin had two small rooms, a screened back porch and a front porch that looked out upon a frozen river and miles of open forest. Less than a half mile away a two-lane, snow-covered, winding, gravel road led to a small town and civilization beyond. Not too many people made it out this far. The road was impassable for most of the winter season.

I needed the solace of this quiet gentle place. I needed the raw nature, the peacefulness, the simplicity and assurance that if something was going to go wrong it wouldn’t be caused by anyone but myself and the elements. I knew very well how to chop wood and build a good fire at my own hearth. I’d learned from my mother and grandfather how to garden and put away the harvest for winter. I traded the hunting prowess of my Samoyed/Husky, Grishka, with a young Indian man for the occasional deer roast and grouse.

This meat along with the vegetables stowed away kept us fine with hot stews and home baked bread, but what my 3-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and I really enjoyed on a cold night was the smoked salmon we’d put away the previous fall. Looking back I believe the joy came more from the memories of the catch than the actual meal itself.

It’s that way with some things, like baked apple pies or blackberry cobbler. You remember gathering the ripe apples and the sun’s warmth upon your face or the perfume of wildflowers interspersed among the thickets of berries. It’s the scent of things that brings back every detail of the event remembered as if that scent unlocks time itself and past becomes reality in the present.

On a cold evening, cabin braced against the boisterous winds, Jennifer and I would speak of fall breezes and remember just a hint of winter lilting upon them. We’d recall the dark blue river running with salmon that ran through the middle of the silver lake. We’d close our eyes and go back to the warm quiet, the sun’s golden rays, the scent of the water and envision the pair of golden eagles against blue sky watching over us as we fished. We’d remember the gentle rocking of the boat and the pride of our generous catch.

It was as if we were back again with friends joining us for a feast of baked potatoes, fresh salmon and corn chowder cooked over an open fire.

Memories help make the long, dark nights shorter. Sharing those memories as stories with friends brings us all closer around the fire. The glow of light in your eyes, the glistening moisture upon lips as stories are shared, the smile upon a gentle worn face, tales being illustrated in the air upon gnarled, knuckled hands, the scent of the fire, sparks and ashes rising to the moon greeting the stars, snows and snowballs, blankets and warm shoulders, the warmth of a hand, hot stews, baked pies, handmade presents, a packet of sage wrapped in red felt, a yellow feather, a blue stone, a lock of blonde hair tied with a pink bow, roads traveled, a bird’s wings spread on freedom’s winds, fires built, hearths visited, moonlit nights, friends remembered, lost loves, loves cherished, children rocked and held, bruises kissed, lullabies sang, one bright star to light our path, upon a cold winter’s night, with the scent of smoke in our hair and memories to carry us into the new year.

Season’s greetings. Thank you for sitting with me back to nature around the warm glow of my winter fire.

Karen can be reached at

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