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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

I don’t think I’ve ever sat around a bad one. Campfire, that is. Any outdoorsman will sing a campfire’s many praises. Among other things, campfires are a great balm after a long day afield, a place for warming up a wet, cold and worn-out body, an enabler for quiet reflection, an equalizer of all company, an igniter of many a fine story, and, if you know your way around a Dutch oven, a site for a pretty fair meal. In short, they are good for the soul. They are also good for the family.

And so I found myself at Thanksgiving sprawled out under a starlit night gazing into a roaring fire fed by fresh-cut pinyon wood and surrounded by cousins young and old from out west and up north. The trip had been in the works for a while. The big cousins and I had decided to take the younger cousins, a little gaggle of mullets, for a campout, for some their first. I don’t know who was looking forward to it more, the boys or us.

After feasting on enough fried turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie to last a lifetime, we left the ranch house and the rest of the family behind to head to camp. Our campsite, a little meadow around a tank by an old plateau live oak tree, was far enough from the house to make it an adventure, yet close enough if the moms just had to find us.

The plan, by design, was a rather simple affair: Build a big fire, roast some s’mores, check out the constellations in the dark skies, listen to the night sounds, tell wild tales to the boys until they couldn’t keep their eyelids open and get up the next morning for a big hike. All went according to plan until we realized that cousin Joe had forgotten the makings for the s’mores, an omission that engendered a near-mutiny among the younger set.

In the old days, we would have just done without, thereby reinforcing a valuable lesson for young campers. Never, ever rely on the memories of one’s elders when it comes to squirreling away marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers for a camping trip. But, alas, the lesson and sacrifice were not to be. There were, after all, cellphones, and in this case, they worked just fine for the SOS.

After a series of plaintive texts, my wife, Stacy, and another relative came barreling down the ranch road in a pickup with enough marshmallows to feed Edwards County. The boys were pacified, and the camping trip was saved from the indignity of being forever labeled by the little campers as the only one in the entire world without s’mores.

Back at the campfire, the rest of the night went according to script. After a host of increasingly fanciful stories about Indian raids and frontier fighters, wild mustangs and Indian ponies, marauding bears and wild hogs, the boys decided that the safest place for the night was not by the campfire, but in the tents.

Young cousin Thomas and I were drafted to put the fire to bed and to keep watch in case the Comanches launched a midnight raid. Thomas held his own until loud, mysterious splashes of inexplicable origin began to occur in the tank and a large horned owl came out of nowhere to land rather noisily in the oak tree above us, giving us both, I’ll confess, a bit of a jump. By then, the sounds of the night had won the day, and young Thomas decided that he, too, was headed to a tent, and that the others in the group were on their own if the Comanches came calling.

We awakened the next morning at first light to a beehive of activity down at the tank. It didn’t take long to figure out why. The boys were engaged in a rather vigorous dissection of whether the “horse” tracks they were looking at were from shod or unshod horses, a critical clue into the origin of the mysterious night splashes. Ultimately, they decided the loud splashes could have come from only one source indeed, a band of Indian ponies carrying Comanche scouts.

As we sat around the vestiges of the fire, planning the hike and listening to the boys ramble on, we all shared a deep smile and sense of satisfaction. The campfire had once again worked its magic, and the boys would no doubt camp again.

This year, I hope you, too, will find time with your family and friends for a campout in your favorite corner of the state. If you need a place to go, your state parks and historic sites offer some of the finest outdoor opportunities around. But here’s the deal: We’ll supply the campsites; you remember the s’mores!

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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