Because we weren’t prepared to have to boil our drinking water in Lookout Campground, we brought with us only enough propane canisters for regular cooking.
Luckily, there is a large fireplace more than a yard wide that looks like the bottom half of a huge iron barrel. The quarter-size holes punched about a foot apart halfway up the side provide a steady supply of oxygen for the fire.
Signs everywhere warn against cutting firewood; the Forest Service sells trees for firewood, and you can see the markings on trees that have been sold. When my father was a young man in Vienna, he was in the lumber business, and my late cousin Nuel remembered going out as a little boy into the forest with him to select and mark the trees that were to be chopped down.
Despite all the warnings here against cutting firewood, there are none against gathering it. At an empty campsite we find a trove of thick branches. And everywhere there are chips, twigs, bits of bark, and dried pine needles for kindling.
Shraga gets the fire going and we cover the grate with aluminum foil, to keep the soot off the pots, and anchor the foil with rocks. The grate is a little too high above the fire, so the water takes forever to boil. But the extra height makes the grate perfect for slow cooking, and I prepare soup, rice, and steamed vegetables on it.
After dinner and the long cleanup, when it is too dark to read, we sit close to the fire, warming ourselves and stirring the embers to create spark showers, and watching the stars appear above. We are too close to Reno for the night sky to have all the brilliance it might have in New Mexico, but it is impressive enough for us city slickers.
We talk about the camper we will buy someday so that we can go camping for months at a time (it’s the same camper and the same trip that we’ve been talking about for years), and we talk about how much our grandchildren would love to run around here and gather firewood with us.
Finally we douse the fire (it’s so dry here that a single spark could cause disaster) and though it’s only 9 p.m., we go to bed.
Text and photographs copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text or photographs may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Esther Hecht.