Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.19.08
Stanstead, Quebec


There was burnin', burnin', to satisfy my yearnin'...

STANSTEAD, QC | Among our many modern quirks is our longing for vast backyards that we never actually set foot on. We build decks off our homes overlooking the grass, or we tear up a chunk of lawn and build small platforms to put our chairs on. We like to be with nature, just not touch it.

One thing you can't do on your deck (or at very least it's ill-advised) is have a campfire. For a campfire, you need to venture onto the lawn. It's a case where our aversion to cooties is overwhelmed by our desire to burn stuff.

Our fascination with fire is instilled in us at a very young age. What do we do when children turn a year old? We stick a candle in food and shove it in their faces.

Campfires are both an outgrowth of this primal urge to burn and a way to teach our young'uns to respect fire.

"Can I start the fire?" they beg at a young age.

"No," we adult Flame Masters say. "You're too little."

"Can I put a stick on the fire?" they ask when they get a bit older.

"We-e-ell... just one," we answer.

"Can I poke this stick in the embers and then wave it around in the air so that it glows and I can write my name in the dark?" they ask next.

"No, too dangerous," we answer while doing so ourselves.

"Can I set a marshmallow on fire, hold it up to my face, blow it out and eat it?"

"Of course, that's the only way to eat marshmallows!"

The campfire is also one of the increasingly rare activities where people willingly entertain themselves. No GameBoys, no iPods, no television, no scrolling advertisements across the bottom of the coals. Maybe some junk food. Definitely some junk food. And possibly music, possibly even your own music.

Campfires bring out your inner Kumbaya. There's a great and hallowed repertoire of campfire songs involving marching ants, watermelons, and the occasional death ("Gory, gory what a heck-of-a-way to die..."). My favourite is The Quartermaster's Store. You know the one:

    There were beans, beans

    As big as submarines

    In the sto-o-o-re

    In the sto-o-o-re...

The beauty of this song is that it's ageless. You can insert any person or thing from any era and it'll work:
    There was Mugabe, Mugabe

    Hogging the wasabi

    In the sto-o-o-re

    In the sto-o-o-re...

Besides the traditional campfire songs, younger kids will often entertain you with songs of their own invention. Two summers ago while camping in PEI, I transcribed a couple of songs presented by Abby, who was 5 at the time:
    I like the fire

    I like the fire

    I like the fire

    And we set it up in the dark

Then there was the song about our dog we'd left behind at the kennel:
    Rosie's all alone

    But there are other dogs

    And she has toys

    And I miss her

    And when we go home

    I will give her a hug

    And she'll be happy

That's good entertainment, as long as it ends there, because once children gain the campfire spotlight, they're sometimes reluctant to relinquish it. Our eldest daughter went through a phase of storytelling. Her stories went something like this:

"There was a dark, dark castle. And in the dark, dark castle there was a dark, dark door. And behind the dark, dark door there was a dark, dark hallway... [three minutes later:] And in the dark, dark shoebox THERE WAS A GHOST! Okay, here's another story: There was a dark, dark house..."

Our middle daughter once entertained our neighbours by sticking a burning marshmallow to her cheek. They responded by sticking her head in the pool.

Speaking of neighbours, most municipalities try to take the fun out of backyard campfires by requiring permits. Generally, like most municipal laws, this rule is poorly enforced and widely ignored. Nonetheless, it's another reason to keep on good terms with your neighbours, so they don't rat you out. And what's one way to stay on good terms? Invite them to your next campfire! Smores all around!

Now sing with me: "Deck chair's burnin', Lord, kumbaya..."