Of Fire and Song…

The Holidays are a time for family and friends. An opportunity to drop out of the present and remember times long gone, places not seen in years and the faces of those who have gone ahead to prepare the way.

Sometimes these memories focus on prior holidays and yet at other times, they provide a window in to what was and help us relive the good’ ole days. Its with the latter I share this story with you on the blog’s first Christmas…

My Dad and I started tent camping when I was young, about seven or eight with the cub scouts. One of my fondest memories comes from the time I had a bluegill for breakfast! While the other kids were eating cereal moistened by water because their fathers forgot the milk, I was feasting on a fresh bluegill caught by me and fried by my Dad! Mmm…Fish!

You see, for the longest time the trips just involved my father, myself and a tent. A few years into it my Dad bought a pickup camper so that my Mom would come along. From that point on we camped as a family. We went all over our home state of Michigan as well as a three week trip to California, I’ll save that story for another time!

This trip, like so many others, took us to northern Michigan in search of fun and fudge in Mackinac and beyond. We were looking to try something new and headed to the Mill Creek campgrounds. Having never been there before, we didn’t know what to expect… The site we had was wonderful! Sitting in the camper you could look out and see Lake Huron to the east and forest to the west, south and north. After getting settled in and camp set, my Mom started dinner. Dusk turned to night and there was a bit of a chill in the air, the kind that only can be removed with a blazing camp fire. As the fire was growing we gathered round, caught up in its warmth and beauty as it lit the faces of our fellow campers walking by.

You see, it was quite the thing to setup, eat and then go for a nice walk around the campgrounds. We had meet the people next to us and got on really well. I only remember the father and son. Really nice people…

The Christmas prior, I had received a “Teach yourself the Harmonica” kit from my aunt uncle in California. Figuring this would be a great time to practice I pulled up a chair and there I was squeaking away by the fire. As I was “playing”, the gentleman from the spot next door came over with a chair of his own and case asking if he could join us. My Dad said “sure”, our neighbor settled in and opened the case producing a dulcimer! He had heard me playing and decided to join in. He asked if I could harmonize and follow…now having only tinkered with the harmonica and not really knowing what I was doing or what he was even talking about, I said “You bet I can!” After a few minuets of playing and getting a feel for our combined sound he took the lead and I followed. Boy, did we sound good…We played for a little bit and when I thought it couldn’t get any better we were joined by his son with his guitar! The father played his dulcimer and sang, his son accompanied him with his guitar and I harmonized bringing it all together with my harmonica while producing soulful tones that felt as if they came from deep below our feet and the surrounding forest.

We played. We played to the sound of the crackling fire…We played to the waves rushing onto the beach and to the reverent silence of the woods around us. My Father continued to stoke the flames to ward off the night’s chill and my Mom brought out hot coco…we paused for the warm drink and re-gather ourselves before continuing and just as our sound faded into the forest, leaving our ears we were meet with a thunderous applause! In our playing none of us noticed the crowd of campers that had gathered to listen. There were small children with their parents, couples of every age embracing each other and this entire group was moved by the sounds we had made. After our pause, we started up again and this time I paid attention to our listeners. Hugs grew tighter, smiles began to appear and there was a far off twinkle in their eyes…not from the fire but something else…something greater than any one person or thing, I felt it too…on the edge of the forest the mist seemed to move and take shape as if the Indians and Settlers of long ago where there as well, listening, smiling and feeling a part of that great something again and giving their blessing to this ad hoc trio  filling the night with music and merriment.

We played under brightly dappled blanket of stars till our fire began to fade in the glow of dawn on the horizon.   I never asked their names or where they were from, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were in the same place at the same time and that was enough. As dawn erupted through the waters of Lake Huron, goodbyes were exchanged and the now tired trio parted ways.

My family pulled out that morning after breakfast. The gentle sway and rise of the camper lulled me to sleep inducing dreams of the prior nights splendor. We bid farewell to the Lower Peninsula and crossed the Mighty Mac seeking new adventure and now, smoked fish, since we had our fill of fudge!

Over the years I’ve have gone on many, many camping trips. Some good and some not so good. This one stands out in my mind as one of, if not the best camping experience I ever had. Looing back on it through the eyes of an adult and father I can appreciate a little more how special a night it was. I can only hope that my children get to have a night of their own like that some day.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes, that night ingrained in my soul the old saying…”It’s the Journey, not the Destination!”

Thank you for reading and Merry Christmas!

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