Hickory Goodbyes

Sparks crackled out of a picture-perfect hickory campfire. Stars blazed a milky trail across the sky. Soon, it seemed, the mountains would cease to allow campfires and begin to gently scatter snow across the Rockies.

Nestled into four layers of long sleeves, flannels and coats, I leaned against a tree stump, feeling the warmth of the fire seep through the fabric. It was chilly out, but I hardly felt the cold. It was as though a bittersweet gratitude was emanating its own warmth from deep within me.

I love personal journeys. Something about deciding to forge a trail where no one has been before gives me such peace. Even in the hard times, it’s a comfort to feel a rock-steady faith despite the obstacles — faith that I am making the right decision, faith that I have already been given what I need to forge that trail.

As I watched the faces around the fire light up, I started writing lines in my head, the way I usually do when I want to remember things.

Who knows we’re here? I recall thinking. It was just us, the vast October sky and probably some bears. Other than the three closest people to me, no one knew we were there, circling a campfire at midnight on a Wednesday.

Comforted by the familiarity of the people around me, I just sat and watched and appreciated. The characters from this chapter of my life (who I have blogged about before) were all toasting marshmallows and laughing, doing what they did best.

Trey, despite his ‘man of the modern era’ speeches, built a fire with the skill of a very meticulous woodsman. Claudia provided all the necessities like food, blankets and drinks and lit up the circle with her cheerful appreciation of everything. Isaac pointed his GoPro around the firelight and whipped up a hip video edit, a raw and beautiful snapshot of one of our last hangouts, a window into the warmth of genuine community.

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And I sat there, trying hard to replicate Trey’s marshmallow toasting technique.

I will be out of town in just a couple of days. The ability to drive up the mountain and hang out with the bears will soon no longer be a possibility.

But I pushed all that aside, toasting marshmallows as though they held the answers. We probably looked pretty poetic and hipster, laughing around the fire the way we were.

“I sometimes like to build up a real hot fire,” Trey was saying, “And buy raw hot dogs and just cook them and risk getting salmonella. There’s something real visceral about it.”

When eventually left, creating a steaming cloud in our wake after having put out the fire. Hickory smoke permeated the layers of clothing we wore, turning the car into what smelled like a giant smoker.

Goodbyes in Steamboat Springs, it turns out, smell like hickory campfires.

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