VICK'S VIEW: Camping under a tree

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By VICKI BROWN

vbrown@lowcountry.com

I was a Nancy Drew mystery freak. I read every single book in the series.

In one story, Nancy was camping, it was cold, and she had to build a fire. I decided to do the same thing.

I had been told over and over not to play with matches, but I was 11 years old and thought I was a genius. I felt like I had enough sense to cut on the water hose and put out a fire if necessary. What I didn’t have enough sense about was where to build the fire.

I had lived in the suburbs with my parents all my life, and had a father who had NOT been a boy scout or outdoorsman, so I had no experience in that area. Knowing nothing about rural life, I distinctly remember the day I went to the grocery store for my mother for a gallon of milk, seeing a picture of a cow on the label, and being “udderly” shocked at discovering that milk came out of a cow. It had never dawned on me...to me, milk came from the store.

Living on Main Street in a small town in Pennsylvania, we had 30 foot tall evergreen spruce trees in the backyard… an entire row of them. They were so tall that the bottom branches were about four feet off the ground, but drooped down to the grass at the tips of the branches. Crawling under the branches made you feel like you were in a small circular tunnel or cave with a tree trunk in the middle.

One afternoon, it was about 40 degrees when I came up with the ingenious idea of building a fire to warm myself. And what better place to do that than in my quiet, piney cave.

I went into the house, found a box of matches and went outside. I began to collect firewood, just like Nancy Drew had done in the story.

Crawling under the branches, I carefully placed my firewood in a pile, and just for good measure, scraped up all the fallen evergreen pine branches and debris under the tree into a pile.

With complete confidence, I struck the match and held it to the branches.

It blew out.

I tried again.

It blew out again.

Finally, after about a dozen frustrating attempts, the fire started, but the older branches were so damp that they just smoked.

Now, I was getting a little irritated. Campfires were supposed to have flames, not smoke, but I couldn’t get the fire started like Nancy Drew. I wondered what I was doing wrong.

About that time, I heard a drumming noise and yelling. What in the world? I looked through the branches of the tree and saw my dad wildly running towards me and shouting something.

He ran up and suddenly dove under the branches of my tree.

Before I could say, “Hey, you weren’t invited”, “What are you doing here”, or “No boys allowed!”, my dad turned to me and yelled, “Are you crazy?! You can’t start a fire under a tree?”

My dad only yelled at us kids during moments of extreme frustration and overwhelming fear. For some reason the yelling was usually aimed at me. So I knew he was just a little upset.

As my dad covered my “campfire” with dirt and scattered debris, he sucked in deep, relieving breaths to calm down.

“You can’t light a fire under a tree. Sparks will come from the fire and set the tree alight. The entire tree will burn down, along with the entire row. We would have to call the fire department to put out the flames,” he said. “You could have also burned down our house and the neighbors’ as well.”

I confess, I looked at him suspiciously. He was a minister. I didn’t think he knew anything except Bible stuff. So how did he know for certain that the tree would catch fire?

I thought about it for a few seconds, and then thought that he was probably right. As I crawled out from my “cave” I looked up at those huge, beautiful trees. It would have been a shame if they had caught fire and burned down.

I felt like an idiot. But worse, I was worried that my dad thought I was an idiot, too.

Sadly, my great plan in ruins, I plodded back to the house with my dad. He reached out and patted me on the shoulder. I knew what he meant was, “I don’t really think you are an idiot…most of the time.” But when we reached the house, he took the matches from me and said, “Don’t play with matches. Haven’t we ever told you that before?”

What did I learn? Nancy Drew didn’t tell me everything, parents under tremendous pressure sometimes say things they don’t mean, and ministers do know about some things other than Bible stuff.

So research an idea, study it, think and plan carefully before getting started, and for crying out loud, don’t start a fire under a tree!

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