Considering the Campfire Through The Eyes of Prometheus

With camping seemingly out the window for the time being, we’ve been having backyard fire pit sessions in the evening, which reminded us of this wonderful essay we published years back. Also, if you’re thinking what we were thinking—boy, I miss sitting around a campfire—we have some of our favorite backyard-friendly fire pit options at the bottom of the post. – Ed.

The story goes something like this. Prometheus was a thoughtful sort of demi-god. Unlike the frat boy types up on Olympus, he didn’t spend his days getting blotto on nectar, gorging on ambrosia, or seducing young maidens while disguised as a wild animal, which is about as creepy as it gets. Nope, Prometheus was a forward-thinking immortal who harbored a real desire to help mankind.

And mankind needed all the help it could get. Men, women, and their squealing offspring huddled in caves. They were cold, hungry, and generally at the short end of the creation-story stick. So, Prometheus, being the caring god/guy he was, floated on down to earth on the sly and brought fire to the people.

That changed everything.

Now, people could cook. They could warm themselves and ward off the wild beasts that were snacking on them. When gathered in masses, the people could lift their Bics and Zippos in a fiery salute whenever a band struck up those first few chords of Freebird.

And yet what did Prometheus get for all his trouble? Chained to a big rock and forced to endure the very unique and exquisite pain of a giant eagle swooping out of the sky and tearing out his liver. Day after day. For eternity. Zeus, clearly, was not the forgiving type and, as a kid, that part always baffled me. What was so bad about giving fire to the people? Fire’s a good thing, right? It depends.

Consider the humble campfire.

On one hand, you can use a small fire to cook a meal, to dry wet clothing, and to bring your body temperature back up to a happy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia sucks. I think we can safely agree on that. But campfires also have an inexplicable ability to bring out, if not the worst in us, then at least the downright stupid and crazy. I’m reminded of this fact as I watch one of my companions morph from sensitive and introspective Cat Stevens fan to belligerent, fire-dancing, Jägermeister-guzzling, alpha male.

Two hours ago, we were drying socks and debating the merits of various 401k plans. Now the flames have risen to dangerous levels and there’s a combination wrestling match, high-kicking contest, and head-butting festival in play. Yes, alcohol has played a role in all this, but relatively little of the blame can be placed at the feet, so to speak, of that one bottle of industrial-grade licorice liquor.

It’s the fire. It does something to us humans that goes far beyond keeping us warm or helping us construct the perfect s’more. The thing starts out as a humble, environmentally sound heat source, and twig by twig, it grows into something bigger and brasher. Those first sticks are followed by bush, then deadfall, then logs, and before you know it, somebody’s throwing in a Kirkland economy pack of baby diapers, because the kid isn’t proving too regular this weekend and-Oh, good Lord, those diapers burn crazy hot! Add some more! Throw all those suckers in there!

Soon there is fire jumping, pointless feats of strength and, of course, the specter of the Air National Guard being sent to jump out of a plane and deal with all this stupidity. This is what made Zeus mad. As I watch the sparks race into the sky and my friends lose their minds, the liver-eating eagle thing is starting to make sense.

I turn around, pick up a bucket and head down to the creek. We’re going to need some water soon. A lot of it.

Photo by U.S. Army

Craving a campfire in these no camping times? Meet these patio-friendly backyard fire pits

We love the Camp Chef Redwood propane fire pit and our online editor has been using it all week on his San Francisco patio. Easy to set up, nice, even flame, comes with attractive lava rocks. A seriously good deal at about $100.

If you prefer wood, the Solo Stove Ranger is a great-looking clean-burning, portable fire pit for backyards and patios in areas for which smoke isn’t a concern. $230.

A small wood-burner, the Primus Kamoto is foldable, sturdy, and on sale right now for less than $100.



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