Winter is almost…probably…possibly… over. Retrospectively, one of the things that kept me going through the many months of winter has been my love of sitting around a winter bonfire. So here is my ode to the fantastic combination of fire and ice, forever entwined in my list of the top five things to love about winter bonfires.
5. Outdoor Cuisine – Coming in at number five is the culinary delight of cooking on an outdoor fire. I know for many people, this would be much higher on the list. In fact, it probably merits a post of its own – best bonfire recipes ever!!! However, I’m usually a bit lame when it comes to outdoor cooking, opting for unwellness foods like hotdogs and marshmallows (alas, I’m not perfect). As an aside, I actually think that the way someone cooks marshmallows says a lot about their personality. I am a slow roasting, brown around the outside, non-charcoal kind of person. I believe this reflects a certain meticulous maturity when it comes to cooking this gourmet desert. However, when I was younger, I was a lot more like my son is now – a “stick it in the flame and watch it burn like a torch” kind of person.
4. Functionality – Fire can have many uses, first on the list being heat and light. Let’s face it, winter is cold. Sometimes very very very cold. Standing around a fire with some sort of windbreak can make even the most frigid nights quite warm.
However for me, fire also brings the phoenix factor to the forest where out of the ashes rises new opportunities for growth. I often have controlled burns in the winter that help selectively clear out the underbrush to open up the canopy. In addition to dealing with old poplar branches, there are many native bushes like Choke Cherries, Hazelnuts, Saskatoons, Highbush Cranberries and Plums that can become unruly over time – much like residential lilac bushes. Cleaning out the old growth will promote vigorous new growth and delicious berries in the summer. Choke cherries also frequently get a disease called black knot – which readily spreads to nearby trees. So burning off branches with black knot is another way to keep it under control.
3. Sharing the Experience – I’ve lost count of the number of great times I’ve had around the fire with others. Whether it’s singing songs or telling tales, sharing a laugh or a beverage (or often all of the above simultaneously) – bonfires provide a focal point for festivities. This past winter, I had one particularly great day where my family joined me around the fire, with everyone taking a turn cooking something, throwing a log or two on the fire, throwing snowballs at each other, and generally having a good time.
2. Self-Reflection – I definitely have introvert tendencies as I’m listing “alone time” ahead of group time. As much as I like the time spent with others, having a fire all to myself is a joy unto itself. Ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed staring at the flames, stoking the fire every now and then to burn away the branches that have fallen by the wayside, constantly changing the mix so that it burns intensely or as little embers pulsing ways as the fire dies. During the day light hours, I often notice the birds come and go, even in the winter where chickadees, wood peckers, ravens, blue jays and the occasional owl are around.
1. Getting Outside – and the best part about fires, is that I get outside to enjoy all the things that are around us. Winter is coldest if you never leave the house. I find the cold weather infinitely more bearable when I strap on some snowshoes or skis, and trek out to light a fire. I know that this can be a chore for those who don’t have the benefit of a cottage or backyard pit – but there are other options on the outskirts of the city – like Beaudry Park or Birds Hill Provincial Park that are a relatively close drive.
There’s my top 5 reasons. What would you add to the list?