A Wonderful Reality

22 Aug

The Andes Mountains are crisscrossed with stone paved highways built by the Incas almost 500 years ago. Some are remarkably well preserved and can still be traveled. There is a shot section of trail just outside La Paz, a section that I hiked twice in my junior high years. The first time I hiked this trail I was with the Boy Scouts, and it was certainly a memorable trip; but it was on my second trip that I discovered fire.
I really don’t remember why Juan Ponce and I did that second trip. Juan is a number of years older than I am and even then was an experienced outdoors man. I don’t remember how we got to the trail head. We must have taken a public bus or truck. The hike included an overnight stay on the trail, and Juan and I bedded down in a grove of small trees or very large scrubs. We gathered some stones for our fire pit, lit our evening fire, and I suppose had something to eat.
The details of the evening have faded from my mind. I don’t remember what we ate. I don’t remember what we talked about. I don’t remember if we had sleeping bags or just blankets. Our “backpacks” certainly would have been the square sheets of heavy muslin commonly used, the bulto of the pre-Incan Aymara peoples and the Quechua descendants of the Incas themselves. I don’t remember my bulto, but we would not have had anything else.
Were I to walk today that trail again, I think I might recognize the grove as I have it, a mental photograph, imbedded in my mind. I also have a mental photograph of the fire in the fire ring, of sitting by that fire watching the logs we had gathered burn to embers. It was well after dark when we decided it was time to sleep. I’m guessing Juan tucked himself in before I did because I was left to do with the fire whatever it is one does before slumber. This part of our trip I clearly recall. I’d never put a fire to bed before, but I guessed that if I separated the burning logs, they would not have each other’s fuel or proximity to keep them burning; and they would slowly put themselves out.
One of the logs still smoldering in our fire was quite long. I was able to grab the still unburned and cool end of that log and roll if off the fire. Not considering the consequences, I rolled that one log outside that ring of stones leaving it there to smolder.
What happened during the dark of my sleep, I don’t know; but it’s highly probable a slight breeze blew up giving life to that log laying outside the fire ring. If that is the case there would have been some flames, and unchecked those flames would have ignited the grove in which we slept.
Juan didn’t tell me of any night fire. He didn’t say he had been awakened in the night to save us from the burning of the grove. He did scold me soundly, though, in the morning for my carelessness. “What were you thinking?” he sternly asked.
My reply was something like, “I thought if I separated the logs, they would just die out.”
“That’s true,” he continued with his scolding, “but you are never to take the logs out of the fire ring. You could have burned down this grove and put us in danger.”
As we finished our hike that next morning, I had plenty of time to think about fire, how we are fascinated by its flames and love to watch as solid timber becomes ember and ash but how, when poorly tended, it can cause terrible damage. The truck we caught in the small mining village for our ride back to La Paz had plenty of passenger space since its load of zinc ore covered only the bottom six inches of the truck bed. The dusty ride home felt very long, but I was glad for a good friend in Juan whose knowledge and awareness on the trail made getting home a wonderful reality.

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Posted by on 22 August 2012 in Uncategorized


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