Written by Rev. Keith Turman
It was early afternoon on the Appalachian River. Our group started hiking in the early morning on the Appalachian Trail. I think some were becoming discouraged in the deluge, but I couldn’t contain my joy or keep secret my love affair with rain. But on that afternoon swim through the Virginia Mountains, even my spirits dampened as I imagined a wet campsite without a campfire.
“I guess no fire tonight,” I said to our leader as we slogged along. But Mikie didn’t seem all that concerned, and proceeded to share a legendary tale. He hiked once with Bill Lamar in a rain of equal passion. When I retold the story at the lodge on Saturday, the Wilderness Trail veterans sitting around me just nodded with a knowing look and said, “Ah, Bill Lamar. Bill Lamar is legend.”
“He started a fire.”
“That’s awesome!” I said. “So you saw him do it? You saw him start a wet fire?” The hope burned so hot I could feel my shoes begin to dry.
“Yeah,” Mikie said, “but I’m not exactly sure how he did it. I was holding a tarp and he did something with moss.”
So we put it on our running list of things we need to know: What’s the difference between a newt and a salamander? Do mountain snails make their own shells, or are they like the hermit crabs that steal someone else’s shell? What does poison oak look like? Where did the surfer phrase, ‘shredding the gnar’ come from? How do you start a fire in the rain?
We made it to our campsite by late afternoon. The rain had stopped, but everything was drenched—not a dry piece of wood in sight. But Mikie didn’t hesitate.
‘Hey guys, look for wood not directly on the ground—dead branches leaning on something or hanging from trees. Make three piles—large, medium and small. Some of you start cutting off the wet bark until you get to the dry stuff. Take this knife and a few of those sticks and make a big pile of dry shavings. Someone get the matches and fire starter out of the backpack.”
He had all of us engaged. We made a flat bed of twigs on the wet ground, put the pile of dry shavings on top of the twigs, and then formed a teepee over the shavings with the bark-less sticks. With a little patience and lots of blowing, the smoke turned to fire. It seemed a small miracle that we roasted marshmallows and started the next day’s journey with dry shoes.
Back home, I consulted Scouting Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, and theartofmanliness.com: How do you start a fire in the rain? I just smiled and shook my head. Mikie could have written those articles. There was something of the legend in him. And now, thanks to Mikie, something of Bill Lamar lived in us. So on some future wilderness adventure, when the heavens open up and a soggy group of middle school hikers needs a fire, someone will light the way.
Paul wrote to his apprentice Timothy: ““And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2