One of autumn’s finest outdoor pleasures is sitting next to a fire, looking at the starry sky.

Here in Illinois, you might find two fall evenings suitable for this activity. Two nights with no rain, no wind, no snow and no ice. But we’re optimists here in Illinois (why else do we stay?), so we’re always on the lookout for those perfect campfire nights.

In pursuit of this outdoorsy fantasy, my husband and I added a stone firepit to our backyard.

“Imagine the romantic evenings snuggled by the fire,” I said.

“Won’t it be fun to make s’mores,” I said.

His view of the fun was slightly different.

“I can practice one of the fundamental skills that separate us from the animals,” he said.

You mean eating Hershey bars stuck between graham crackers with gooey marshmallow?

“No, fire building!”

A few weeks ago, when the weather was ideal (the first of Illinois’ two great fall evenings), my beloved built a roaring fire worthy of any Eagle Scout.

Side note: When our daughter was younger, my husband taught her basic wilderness survival skills including how to chop wood, pitch a tent and start a campfire. I taught her never to wear white after Labor Day.

After he got the fire going, he left to pick up a pizza. (Am I married to a dream man or what?)

“Keep the fire going,” he said, pointing to extra logs staged nearby.

Well, you know what happened. He was barely out of the driveway and I had smothered the flames with all the logs and extinguished the fire.

When he returned, nothing remained but partially charred wood and a whiff of smoke. The cardboard pizza box was putting out more heat.

In my defense, I reminded him at one point in my life (when I was 10), I knew how to build a decent campfire.

“At Girl Scout camp, I once started a fire with leaves and a magnifying glass.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t work so well with moonlight…” he said.

OK, so I am a rotten fire builder, but there are varying levels of “pyro skill.” Let’s classify them:

“Sons and Daughters of the Pioneers”: My husband is a member of this category. With a handful of dryer lint and two twigs, he can build a blaze in the pouring rain. OK, so pioneers didn’t use lint from their Maytags, but you get my point. (Bonus tip: Great holiday stocking stuffers for this group include flint and steel sets. They love primitive gadgets no one else in the family knows how to use.)

“Infernos Fans”: These over-doers dump half a can of lighter fluid on a teepee of wood stacked higher than the nearest roof. Their goal is to create an inferno visible from the International Space Station. Sometimes these folks are missing half their eyebrows.

“The Eternal (Flame) Optimist”: “Try, try again” is this group’s motto. Even after three packs of matches and a week’s worth of old newspapers, they can’t keep the flame going. You’ll usually see them on their hands and knees blowing on a spark until they are blue in the face, trying to nurse the spark into a full-fledged flame. These positive thinkers are often the same people who believe they can make it to O’Hare airport from Central Illinois in less than two hours because “traffic and construction won’t be that bad.”

“Cursers of the Darkness”: This is my category. Even with a cord of dry wood, a butane lighter and a windless evening, I cannot start a fire. I’m lucky if I can correctly adjust the dials on a gas stove.

But we don’t have to curse the darkness. My advice to fellow members of this flameless category: buy a propane space heater or become good friends with a member of the “Sons and Daughters of Pioneers” fire starters.

Preferably one who likes takeout pizza.

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Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 205 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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