My Christmas Campfire: It was the gentlest of gentle rains that started to fall. The time was around 10 PM Christmas Eve. The campfire before me was perfect in its size, yielding just the right amount of crackling sounds and heat. I was comfortably sitting with legs crossed on the edge of my sleeping bag, bathing in the feeling of raindrops gently striking my forehead and thereabouts. I carefully listened to the raindrops as they splashed on the heated rocks around the campfire. The sizzling sound of each droplet evaporating, was a good indicator as to the veracity of the rain. The blanket I had was laying around me. I pulled enough of it up to cover my back, and the top of my head. I left an opening before me, from my knees to the top of my forehead allowing the heat to channel its way to the opening.
I sat before a small campfire, staying warm, during a light rain and the cold temperatures of the evening desert. I smiled and thought about the old Indian adage: “White man builds big fire and stays far back, Indian build small fire sits up close and keeps warm.” The temperatures in the desert at night can become bitterly cold in the winter. It was one of those Christmas Eve’s many years ago, I spent alone by choice. This was a period in my life when I had no significant other, and I was overwhelmed by the success of my commercial photography business, and needed to refocus on the spiritual side of my life.
To this day, my campfire ring resides some 90 miles or so from the city of San Diego, in a small desert town called Ocotillo Wells. I would head northeast from that town on a small desert road for approximately 10 miles. Then I would take what one would describe as a barely noticeable dirt road into the desert, for about a quarter of a mile. I parked my van near an outcropping of small rocks that lined one of those desert washes that seemed to be always made up of sand. It was down in that wash, on a comfortable patch, where I built a formidable fire ring which served me well, for many years.
Christmas Eve, for most, is a time to spend with family and friends. For me it was, and still is the holiest of all nights. It is the night to be thankful for all your blessings. And one of the best nights that I like to dedicate to my own self-awareness, and how I fit into the universe. The desert night can be a very spiritual place. The sky is filled with every kind of star imaginable. Off in the distance, over my left shoulder was the Western sky, pulsating with the loom of city lights reflecting off the clouds, from the metropolis of San Diego.
Sometimes I would get distracted by thinking of all the possibilities and sinister isms that were taking place in that city many miles away. From my lonely outpost, with only the light and warmth of a campfire, the randomness of a cool breeze, and of course the subtleness of the raindrops falling on me and around me. I would do my best to cast out the thoughts of that city. I would refocus and think of how the rain replenishes the desert and especially the purple sage, the fragrance is way beyond any mortal’s ability to duplicate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like rain can truly wash away the turmoil most cities deal with day and night. For many the desert seems barren, but I can assure you is teeming with life and nature’s glory abounds.
What does one think about when you decide to seek out the solitude that can only be found sitting next to a small campfire, in which you could describe as the middle of nowhere? Peace; a sense of self awareness, or just the opportunity to de-clog your mind of all the stresses we generally welcome into our lives. When you find yourself being alone in a somewhat desolate place, you may discover one of two things. You are either in good company, or you really don’t like who you’re with. The real charm becomes your own discoveries about yourself, the good ones and perhaps the not so good ones.
As the rain replenishes the desert, solitude can replenish your spirit and give you the opportunity to re- engage with the person you want to be. Fortunately for me, those trips to the desert on Christmas and more often than not on New Year’s Eve, made me feel euphoric. The environment overwhelmed my senses. My thoughts became joyous, and all without listening to a single Christmas song, or being visually bombarded by all the Christmas paraphernalia that is best now known as the commercialization of a holiday. I should think every holiday season would be better served as one to show genuine love for your family and for your fellow man.
When I started dating my wife to be Inci, I told her about my Christmas and New Year’s outings to the desert for solitude. Her first comment to me was “Really?” And my reply to her was, “If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.” A few months later when it was time for Christmas, I asked her if she would like to join me? I could almost hear the thoughts going through her head. “Would I rather be with Rod out in the middle of nowhere, sitting by a campfire on Christmas Eve or sitting at home with my parents.” I’m happy to say she decided to come and see for herself what it was like to spend Christmas Eve by a small campfire in a remote part of the desert. Yes indeed love conquers all.
What will we eat? This is what we will eat, we will have steak neatly skewered on a willow stick. We will hold it over the fire and eat the edges as they become cooked. We will wash down our meal with a bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne. (It wasn’t too expensive back then) we won’t have any radio with us, we will be dining under the stars, virtually all alone with our positive, beautiful thoughts. To this day Inci admits that those were very special Christmases, loaded with non-duplicatable special memories.
Spending some time with yourself, rather it be out in nature or maybe closed up in your bedroom, shutting out the world, is remarkably good for your inner spirit. You’re never really and truly alone if you like yourself.
My Christmas campfire has and always will be, one of the precious moments of my life. Is it a daring thing to do? For some it would be almost impossible. It does take a certain amount of courage, especially in this day and age to walk away from what many call tradition, and start your own tradition. It’s best if you can do it alone or as I discovered if you have a significant other that means the world to you, then you can connect in a way that virtually would be impossible in the congested world we are always surrounded by.
What did I do on Christmas day? That answer is easy, I wasn’t about to miss out on Christmas presents. Yes, you can take me out of the city and plant me in the middle of the desert where I can commune with the universe, but you cannot take out of me the desire to receive man-made gifts freshly purchased and given with love.
“I saw the spirit of Christmas, it shined its light within me,
it pushed away the sorrows of life, and fulfilled a promise of peace
and joy for me.” – Rod Jones Artist