To Build a Fire

daily life

I am not good at failing. This is funny for two reasons: 1) I like trying new things. 2) I fail a lot — you would think I have made myself immune to it by now. Failure, rejection, any of these sorts of things, make me uncomfortable to the point of irrationality. During my entire grad school career, I have only gotten two B+’s on papers, and I still cannot bring myself to actually look at them — being failures and all. Actually the thought right now makes me feel like hyperventilating. I’m a big fan of the gold star, the pat on the head, the beautiful, glorious “A” on the paper. External approval, man.

Enter this wilderness class I am taking right now. I am not exactly a stereotypical wilderness person (whatever that means). I mean I love champagne, manicures, facials–I give myself a face and hair mask twice I week. I get massages twice a month. Shoes and clothes make me really excited. And my idea of a good time is an excellent foodie-type restaurant. I love luxury. Granted, I grew up on a dairy farm and once had a summer job shoveling sand in a foundry. I am no stranger to hard work, but my inclination is definitely towards comfort.

But a couple of months ago, I just felt this urge to give it a go. We received camping equipment for Christmas and are planning to test the waters this summer. I started reading more wilderness memoirs. And yeah, I know I’m totally romanticizing it here, but in a time where life just feels so go-go-go, I wanted to focus on something that could be completely away from all of that. I wanted a goal that was outside of grad school, outside of running, and to do something completely and utterly different. So two days before the class started I signed up.

And I am really bad at it. I mean I’m barely good at using a knife in the kitchen, let alone carving up tent stakes out of wood. The other week, I had a total success building a fire with a ferro rod and homemade tinder. I felt like a total wilderness rock star and totally primal. You see that Zeus? I made FIRE!

But this past week, I spent over an hour in about ten degree weather, knees in the snow, trying with all my might to get one of my fatwood sticks into some kind of dust and another stick feathered (see above about being terrible at using a knife) so I could use it as a tinder to start a fire. I was warned it would be harder, that the only easy day was yesterday. I did not start a fire. I could barely even get my ferro rod to make sparks. I trudged back to the truck cold, wet, frustrated, and discouraged.

“Good thing we’re not in a Jack London novel,” I think I said to Bruno. Then I hopped my frozen self into a bubble bath, complete with a hot chocolate.

This Thursday I am going to have to try again. And who knows? Maybe I still will not get it. Maybe Zeus is mad at my hubris from the other week and is already planning on chaining me to a mountain complete with a liver-eating eagle. Or maybe, I will get it. I need to remember that rarely is anybody a natural at anything. Time and experience can make this better.

One thing that is not a maybe: After this class is over, I am probably going to get a lot more comfortable with failing. And hopefully with using a knife too.