The Place With No Name



Black Creek Trail, DeSoto National Forest, Mississippi



This was a 'training' trip for Bob. 

I start at about 8:00 AM at Bob's house by showing him how to pack his pack - again.  Winter clothing is the issue this time, and after we sort all that out, we drive to Black Creek, stopping to eat at Subway.  We park at Janice Landing about 2:00 PM and hike into the Black Creek Wilderness.  Here's Bob at the parking lot, ready to go.

The Forest Service map of the Black Creek trail is absolutely lousy, and we follow the blazes until we come to a road.  There aren't any road crossings on the map, and it takes us a little while to figure out that we are supposed to walk along the road and cross the bridge.  You'd think that something like that would be indicated on the map...

Hunting season is in full swing, and while hunters can hunt on Forest Service land, they aren't supposed to hunt in the designated Wilderness Area.  The hunters, evidently, either do not know this or do not care.  Dogs are a common sight near the roads, as are hunters.  They don't seem to penetrate very deep, and I assume that's because it's no fun to drag a large animal carcass for more than a few hundred feet in order to get it back to the truck.

On this trip we have three goals in mind for Bob: Learn fire starting skills, learn to select a tent site, and learn to find and filter water.  With this in mind we aren't looking to cover many miles, and as we walk along I point out good tent sites and what to look for when selecting a tent site.  After we cross Beaver Dam Creek, we go into the wilderness for about a mile and start looking for a camp site.  Along the way we meet Robin, a backpacker from Houma, Louisiana and hike along with him for a short way.  Three Louisiana boys in the Mississippi woods...  There ought to be a story there somewhere...  We keep hiking to try to get away from the dogs and the gunfire.

In the end, we find a lovely little campsite near Beaver Dam Creek, but Robin keeps going, trying to make a few more miles.  We decide that we have gone as far as we need to, and set camp about 4:45.  

Bob has made tremendous progress in his preparation, and I have been quite proud of him.  He has decided to ditch the hammock, though, and go with a tent instead.  Unbeliever...  Here he is setting it up by himself for the first time.  He does a pretty good job, too.  I helped him set it up in his back yard the very first time, and he was supposed to practice.  When I ask him how many times he had set it up on his own, he pauses and says, "I don't know...once or twice..."; associated with his body language that means that he is lying and hadn't set it up by himself at all.  He did nicely, though, with no more than a few verbal hints from me.

The sun went down, and with it went the temperature.  Since one of Bob's training goals is to be able to start a fire, I setup an Indian teepee fire - explaining as I went - and lit it with a single match.  No big deal really; I've been doing this my whole life.  Bob hasn't, and struggles to duplicate it.  He lights a few matches, and has several failures.  All of this starts me thinking about all the fires I've ever lit.  I couldn't begin to count them all.  It's one of those skills that you hardly ever think about, but that's so important sometimes...  I'm trying to teach him the skill of fire starting, but how do you teach the art of it?  Yes, there is a science to fire:  Light the little things first, which then light bigger things.  Then there's the fire triangle.  Heat, fuel, and air.  Even a forest fire is started with a single spark...but there is more to it than that...


How can I possibly teach him the art, the pure magic of fire?  How do I teach him that fire isn't merely a chemical reaction?  How can I explain that lighting a fire is a magical spell?  Perhaps I should tell him that building a fire is a prayer to the Fire Spirit that requires a sacrifice of tree-flesh upon the altar of the ground.  This tree-flesh was once a part of a living being with a sacred spirit, and this tree's immediate family is watching closely, stretching their arms up in a prayer of their own.  The trees know that the ground is made from the ashes of their ancestors, and we must not profane that history.  We must be careful and approach this sacrifice with dignity and respect, not only because the tree spirits desire such kindness, but because the Fire Spirit is fickle and quick to anger.  As we sit upon the altar of the ground, with the unmeasured dome of the cathedral of the sky above us, we must approach the spirits cautiously.  The family of trees gathers around us like a large congregation, and their prayer can be heard in this church if you know how to listen.  We must arrange the sacrifice according to the rituals, and kneel down in front of this altar to pray.  The prayer begins when we strike the match, and continues as we set the sacrifice alight.  We bow down many times, blowing upon the sacrifice, breathing a mantra that has been breathed for countless eons.   The Fire Spirit is pleased, and accepts the sacrifice, and answer our prayer.  We sit back to watch and hear the sermon it gives.  Here, in this church, listening to this ministry, it is possible to discover the very essence of our being - the soul of creation.  The altar of the Earth, the breath of the air, the sermon of the fire, the song of the river, and the infinite void above us filled with stars and humming in silence, all give witness to subtle truths too precious for words.  The Voice of the Universe can be heard here.  Shhhh!  Listen!  We are not two strangers in a strange land; we belong here, and all around us is the stuff of which we are made.  We are not even separate beings, you and I, but sprits of a greater spirit, and a voices of a greater voice.  We aren't in the universe; we are part of it.  The ground is made from the ashes of our ancestors.  We are the spirits, and the spirits are us.  Join, now, in the chorus of the Tree Song, for we are one people - one family - and the sacrifice on this altar was a loved one who was very dear to us...

Is it even within my power to tell him these things?  No... He has not seen his true nature for so long that to show it to him too suddenly would frighten him.  Best to let him awaken slowly from his dream...

So, I sit in silence, giving few instructions, and watching my sorcerer's apprentice struggle with the Fire Spirit like a sixteen-year-old boy pawing at his prom date's dress.  Inept in his inexperience, but eager to attain the prize.  His attempts are vulgar, humorous, encouraging, obscene, and inspiring all at the same time.  He gets a little fire going and throws little sticks at it, fearing the Fire Spirit too much to lay them down gently.  The Fire Spirit is insulted, and vanishes in a puff of smoke.  Bob is dejected, and embarrassed - much more than he should be.  I tell him that he can still save that fire, and get up to show him.  I bow down on the altar and blow upon the sacrifice...  Success!  I start to reveal it to him, but catch myself and simply say, "blast furnace".  He adapts to the idea quickly and soon has a nice fire going.  He was very proud, and so was I.  I told him, "Welcome to the Family of Man."  Eventually he will welcome himself into the Family of the Universe, but for that there is still time.  Here he is with his very first fire!

Once we had fire, we had dinner - which in my case was two packs of Kraft EasyMac and some freeze dried ice cream.  Ah...the simple pleasures of life...  Despite the nice fire, Bob had on every bit of clothes that he had with him.  As is my usual habit, I wasn't wearing any.  I expect that his Highlander blood will eventually wake up and he'll be immune to the cold, and I hope that happens sooner than later.

Bob turned in relatively early and I stayed up to watch the fire.  It was going pretty good and I hate to waste a good fire.  I checked the temperature and found that it was 40 degrees and about 60% humidity.  Beautiful...

I bring his fire into mine, commingling the coals, add more sacrifice to the altar, and approach it with respect.  As I sit, dreaming the fire, I am aware of the universe all around me.  The night deepens, and the fire settles.  I am lost in my thoughts when the Fire Spirit calls me by my real name and whispers to me softly.  "Who is this one you brought to me?  Who is this child you let desecrate this place?"

"Hush you arrogant spirit.  He is a sleeper - be careful when he awakens because he may have power when he does."

"Ssssss....  I think not."

"Who can know, my brother?  Do not be troubled over it.  The spirits watch him closely.  They'll come for him tomorrow and wake him a little.   A little every day - they promised."

"No matter.  He will join us in his own time, sooner or later."

"Sooner than later."

"Sing with me then, and prophecy with me."

"Not tonight my brother, lest he hear us.  Let the sleeper sleep.  The sprits will have him on the morrow.  Sing to me the fire song, for he will not hear it, and I have not heard Voice of Fire in a long while."

And so the Fire Sprit sang, and Bob slept, and the night deepened, and the fire slowly consumed the sacrifice while the tree spirits looked on and prayed, and I weep gently for the loved one that was so dear to me that I have offered on this holy altar...


I finally turn in at about 11:30.  At 2:00 AM, my usual waking time, I put on my silk liners and a pair of socks.  It is 29 degrees and my sleeping bag is cheap...  The only sound is the sound of the creek.  





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