Feed the fire is what I did, crouched in the low squat position, just inside the spacious Buckeye fireplace.
Rain had fallen on and off most of the day. Faintly, I could hear water droplets hitting puddles behind the lodge, signaling it had started again. Laying another piece of dry wood on the fire and blowing deeply into the blaze, I twitched a little with excitement. I could imagine all the little guys in my Buckeye family kicking their shoes off and running in after the day of hard playing in the rain to find a warm fire and board games. Sure enough, within a few minutes the space that had been silent – except for the cheerful crackle of the fire – came to life with the chatter of 33 boys playing UNO, Checkers, Connect Four, reading books, telling stories, and sharing the day’s adventures.
But that was yesterday, and now a different fire had to be fed. After several hours of sunshine and clear weather, more rain blew in right as we prepared to get the Buckeyes ready for our big Cabin Campout. The hike up the mountain to our sites, complete with covered wooden structures and fire pits, is a short one. But excitement can quickly turn to dread at the prospect of hiking in the rain and mud. Most of the Buckeyes saw the rain as no big deal, but several were not convinced. “Do we have to?” one camper asks his Counselor as he attaches a rain covering to the backpack. “Hey, it’ll be great bud!” His fire of enthusiasm was dwindling. When all the backpacks had been covered, heads counted and counted again, food divided, and water bottles filled, we walked over and stood right in front of the trail that would take us up to the campsites began.
I call out to get the group’s attention: “When I say ‘Buck’ you say ‘eye’! Buck!” 33 little heads and 12 counselors turn and shout back “Eye!” Silence (more or less) falls over my Buckeye family.
“Gentleman. You may be feeling a lot of things right now. Some of you may be happy, others excited, others wary, still others may even be frustrated. These feelings are like the fire we had last night in the lodge. You must decide if you are going to feed it. If you are excited about this hike, even if it is a bit wet, feed that fire! Build it up. Find things around you–like the sight of a crazy mushroom or the chance to eat marshmallows–to feed that fire. If you are feeling upset or uncertain about hiking in the rain, starve that fire, and build a new one. My friends, we are hiking up this mountain this afternoon, so it is up to you: What fire will you feed?”
I let out a somewhat obnoxiously loud and high-pitched ‘whoop’ and yell again: “When I say ‘Buck’ you say ‘Eye’ Buck!” 45 voices shout back in unison: “Eye!” “Let’s climb this mountain!” one counselor from behind me shouts, holding his fist in the air. The trek begins.
Later in the evening the words I spoke echoed in my mind. The question challenges me as well:
What fire will I feed tomorrow? Or in the next hour? Or in the next moment?
Tomorrow, we Buckeyes hike again. This time up to Choctaw Rock. A good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and praying for my guys tomorrow morning will help me feed the fire of excitement. Who knows, it may be all that is needed to warm their hearts again as we set out.
What fire will you feed? Who will your fire warm?
Buckeye Tribal Director (Cabins 1-6)