It’s July, and my emotional clock tells me that this is the time for campfires and gathering around flickering flames to sing songs beneath the stars. From the time that I was 8-years-old until I was well into college, I spent every summer at camp, and because of that, I have a well-developed affinity for nature. A few days ago, I wrote about how I either slept in screened cabins or tents at camp and how I would lie awake at night and listen to the owls and the whippoorwills or I would listen to the other night animals picking through the leaves and darting about. I wrote about how I loved to listen to the rain tap the cabin’s tin roof and pepper the leaves that were only a few feet from where I slept. I also loved cooking on open flames at camp, and I loved circling a campfire and singing. Because I grew up with camp, campfires are still magical to me.
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” – Henry David Thoreau
When I was at camp, my favorite campfires had a reverence about them. We might sing a few hooping and hollering songs at campfires, but we routinely sang the fun songs after mealtime, as we washed and dried our dishes and cleaned up the eating area. For the most part, our campfire songs were wistful or peaceful.
Peace, I ask of thee, Oh River–
Peace, Peace, Peace.
When I learn to live serenely,
Cares will cease.
From the hills, I gather courage.
Vision of the day to be.
Strength to lead and faith to follow,
All are given unto me.
I have no doubt that it was at camp that I jumped on the Peace Train, and I never quit riding that. I learned to be an idealist and a naturalist, and I learned to associate nature with peace. One of my all-time favorite camp songs was Dona Nobis Pacem. It is still my mantra.
Dona Nobis Pacem – Grant Us Peace – Amen!
It was at camp that I learned to ask more from life than mere existence and I learned to dream.
“Dreams are the touchstones of our character.”- Henry David Thoreau
It was also at camp that I began to speak lyrically and to weave thoughts into verse.
“You cannot hear music and noise at the same time.”
Henry David Thoreau — Journal, 27 April 1854
I know that my love of lyricism is because of the music at camp and the campfires. I believe that it is in learning to sing other peoples’ songs that we find our own voices.
All things shall perish from under the sky.
Music alone shall live.
Music alone shall live.
Music alone shall live.
Never to die.
It takes a village to raise a child, and I cannot overemphasize how happy I am that the village that raised me included a camp and campfires and singing. When I was younger, I periodically heard the quote: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. The words speak of how a child’s early training determines the person that he will become. When I was a child, I learned to sing, and I learned to hike through nature, and I learned to hear the voices of the natural world.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”~ John Muir
When I got older, I began reading Henry David Thoreau.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau
If I had my way, I’d be living in a cabin that is buried deep in a forest. I would want little there, but I would want a campfire ring and a fireplace to bring the mysticism of the campfire inside.
“To be admitted to Nature’s hearth costs nothing. None is excluded, but excludes himself. You have only to push aside the curtain.” – Henry David Thoreau
But I don’t live in a forest, and that is one reason that I garden. I want to surround myself with as much nature as I can. In fact, I often tell people that my garden is my personal Walden’s Pond. I contiuously add new flowers and trees to my natural sanctuary, and hopefully, by the end of the summer, I shall have completed my outdoor fireplace. The part of nature that speaks to me is connected to my singing around the campfires of my youth.
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
Unfortunately, fire is not always a good thing, and I have also experienced a way that fire can be devestating. Thirteen years ago, my house in Mississippi burned to the ground, and I lost almost everything to the burning. But because I learned to sing around campfires as a child and because I learned how to commune with nature and with something greater than myself then, I survived that tragedy and other similar tragedies before and since that time.
“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”Henry David Thoreau
At the end of every campfire, the campers would stand and form a circle around the dying flames. We would cross our hands over our bodies and hold hands, and then we would sing:
©Jacki Kellum July 2, 2016
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hill, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest.
God is nigh.
“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.” – Henry David Thoreau