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Longing for a campfire

Sep 26, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk

As a member of the Minnesota Roenigk family, I didn't grow up camping.

My dad likes to joke that his idea of a wilderness trip is staying at a cheap motel, and though my mom used to backpack as a young adult, she never seemed to put up a fuss when our family vacations included indoor sleeping arrangements.

In college, though, I met Cooper, who introduced me to the camping world. Yes, we were living in Chicago at the time, where, even hours away from the city, campers have a view of urban light pollution that glows on the horizon like a night-light for adventurous Illinoisians.

But the experience was new to me, and exciting -- we'll always remember the night we were visited by a pack of coyotes who had stumbled onto our camp site on their way home from nearby hunting grounds. I believe we slept in the car that evening.

Over the years, and farther west, I have learned more about living in the woods than I thought was possible. Bear bags, portable stoves, iodine tablets that purify water -- all were novel to me, and as I learned to use my newfound tools I stopped caring about dirty hands, dusty clothes or passing rain showers.

I also gained an appreciation for nice, big campfires.

It's not that we didn't have backyard blazes or fires in the fireplace growing up, but I was rarely asked to build them. I didn't necessarily want to, either -- fire can burn, and making one usually leaves you marked with soot. But as darkness falls in the wilderness, bringing the temperature down with it, the idea of a fire is almost always an inviting one.

I didn't realize until this summer, though, how integral the evening fire has become to my camping routine. In July, Wyoming officials enacted a statewide fire ban -- a necessary move with more than 3,000 men and women in Wyoming fighting fires at the time. On one summer morning, Gov. Matt Mead said, every active Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplane equipped to fight fires in the nation was flying in Wyoming.

With the Alpine Lake Fire looming over Fremont County, and countless others burning in the state, I wouldn't want to have a fire in the woods now. It would feel irresponsible and risky, and disrespectful to the crews of people working every day to extinguish wildfires.

Am I allowed, though, to feel the smallest amount of longing for the brightened fire rings of last season? Can I look ahead to warm summer nights by the fire in 2013?

At least the ban won't have a detrimental effect on Riverton's traditional burning of the 'R' for Homecoming week. Thanks to the cooperation of county fire officials and the dedication of RHS staff, the annual bonfire is scheduled to go on as planned this year.

My summer camping tradition didn't fare so well -- without the prospect of a blazing fire to keep us warm, Cooper and I weren't as motivated to sleep in the woods. We took day trips instead, hiking in the mountains before returning home to count our blessings: We have physical health, a roof over our heads, and an army of dedicated individuals willing to keep Wyoming safe from wildfires. Things definitely could be worse.

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