Outdoors Column: The Misadventures of Camping Without a Fire

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What’s camping without a campfire?

That’s the question that ruled my wife’s thoughts after I raced home after work on a recent Friday with news that I was sure she didn’t want to hear.

Margaret’s favorite part of camping is sitting around the fire, staying up late, enjoying the company of her family, maybe roasting a marshmallow, but ultimately losing herself in the hypnotic dance of the flames.

“I think there might be a burn ban in place,” I told her when I got home from work.

She was already packing our BMW with all our camping gear with our four-year-old, Madelyn, in tow, “helping.”

Margaret looked at me with the kind of blank stare that could either mean she didn’t quite grasp the implications of what I was talking about, or, more likely, was tempering a sudden-onset hurricane of freak-out at the sound of the news.

“Yeah, the paper reported a countywide burn ban,” I said. “Let’s check to see if Grays Harbor has one too.”

I was trying to give us both hope, though I suspected the ban was statewide.

We were all set to spend the weekend at Ocean City State Park, near Ocean Shores.

She disappeared inside our three-bedroom apartment and came back, quicker than I expected.

“You’re right,” she said, frowning, clenching her teeth, taking measured breaths. “There’s a burn ban.”

“Did you check to see if it covers campfires?” I asked.

“Yes, Dan, I did,” she replied, the inner storm gathering speed and velocity.

I switched to full-on damage control.

“We can still have a great time camping,” I said, always the consummate optimist.

She went through a smattering of reasons why the campout would be hampered without a campfire as I unloaded all the firewood she had painstakingly packed. “The menu will have to change,” was a popular one.

I assured her that we could still have hot dogs roasted over a flame, but we would need to pick up some propane for our camping stove. I also told her that sitting out by a lantern was just as wonderful as a campfire.

She said the mosquitoes would eat us alive. I assured her it wasn’t mosquito season, that we didn’t even need insect repellent.

She looked dubious for a moment, clearly doubting my mosquito-season claims, and then an idea hit her.

She looked at me slyly and said, “We can just light the fire and say we didn’t hear about the ban.”

I told her we couldn’t do that, because the park ranger comes by every two hours with the job to, specifically, keep people from lighting fires.

So we went to Walmart to get some propane.

They were sold out. Following my guidance, Margaret refrained from buying insect repellent.

We looked at nearby stores for more propane.

All sold out.

Finally, we went to a sporting goods store at Capital Mall in Olympia where I found a small selection of propane.

It was a brand I was not familiar with, so I grabbed the smallest one to ensure it would fit our camping stove. The medium-sized ones looked too fat to fit on the stove’s intake apparatus.

At long last, we arrived at the campsite. We set up our tent and our canopy, arranging our food on the picnic table. I set out the stove on top of the campfire grate and we were all set to enjoy a great time.

Margaret went for a walk, saying that she would start dinner when she got back.

Wanting to help, I decided to get the food going while she was gone.

The propane didn’t fit.

It was too small.

When Margaret got back, I tentatively told her the news.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but if her reaction to the news of no fires was any indication, I was prepared for the worst. I wanted so desperately for her to have a good time, and didn’t want my mistakes to cause her distress.

Upon hearing the news, she exhibited the kind of grace and decorum that made me fall in love with her.

“I guess we’ll have peanut butter and jelly,” she said, refusing to make me feel worse at my blunder than I already did.

Don’t worry, we got propane the next day.

When dark fell, and we were huddled around the lantern, being eaten by mosquitoes, we looked around at the other campsites.

Campfires everywhere.

By then, we were committed to our plight, and like any self-respecting American, we took the high road. Or, maybe, the “greater than thou” road.

“I can’t believe they are lighting campfires in a burn ban,” Margaret said. “Don’t they know how dangerous that is?”

I smiled and swatted a mosquito.

It seemed that all was forgiven.

That was before she got 30 mosquito bites.

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