Campfire Stories

By Nathan Hritz

During this time of year, campfires seem to be more enticing than they have ever been. Maybe it is the last kiss of summer warming the days, or the brittleness of the coming winter claiming the night. Whatever it is, an autumn campfire is second to none.

I recently took a weekend trip to Elk County, Pennsylvania to have a go at witnessing bull elk enter into that ever-illustrious battle over mating rights, otherwise known as the rut. My family and I camped out in Parker Dam State Park, having campfires on a nightly basis. We were a little early to witness the rut, but the conversation around the fire sparked my desire to write this week’s column.

Campfire stories are as much of an American tradition as apple pie or even good old baseball. From the cowboys out west, to the hunters of the north, to the backyard patio dwellers, nobody would argue against the statement that any time spent around a fire is time well spent.

As a multifaceted individual, I find campfires carry a lot of significance to me. Whether I’m sitting out on a brisk November evening, telling stories of how hunting used to be in my home state of Pennsylvania (known as the million hunter state by some of the old timers), to telling ghost stories with close friends, a campfire is always home base whenever I’m trekking through the wilderness.

My favorite campfire stories are those that have been passed down through Native American tradition, my all-time favorite being that of the wendigo, the cannibalistic creature that is said to roam throughout the northern forests of the Atlantic Coast and even throughout the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.

One of my favorite memories while sitting around a fire, several years ago, was when a dear friend of mine invited me to go along with him, his father and a ragtag crew of outdoorsmen to a small hunting cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania to hunt black bears. We had finished hunting for the day and with our bellies full of some of the best red meat I’ve ever tasted, we sat around a fire telling stories.

At one point, one of the men heard an owl calling out to the other lonesome owls strewn throughout the forest. He then proceeded to impersonate another owl, calling back with a phrase that resembles the call of an owl: “Who cooks for you?” We fell silent as he managed to coax the owl into what would have been a visible distance had it been light out. It was one of the coolest, most hauntingly beautiful things I have ever witnessed.

Fall is the perfect time of year to gather around a fire with close friends or loved ones. Make some memories that will last a lifetime. The temperature is darn near perfect for it this time of year.