Spring air in the Tennessee hills was the stage for me and me and my friends camping. We set up camp in a clearing. Mikey Wilson built a fire for later. He arranged the logs into a work of art. It was both rugged and symmetrical. It was 70 degrees at noon, a strange time to build a fire.
When camp was set up, we played an odd form of baseball with limited players and equipment. We had a blast. After a couple of hours of ball, we were ready to eat. We had a few bags of chips, but we needed Mikey to crank up the camp fire in order to cook the real food, hot dogs on a stick.
I expected Mikey to strike a match and light the logs so we could start cooking our franks right away. Instead, he struck a match and lit some newspaper. With the newspaper, he lit some small, dry twigs positioned under the log structure. Every stage caught fire a little slower than the previous stage. Although slower to start, each stage burned longer than the stage before. The match burned out in seconds. The logs burned for hours.
A half hour later, the logs were blazing and the dogs were roasting. We had a variety of drinks: Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and store brand soda. One of us wondered aloud, “What would happen if we threw a soda (store brand) into the fire?” Ten seconds later, the answer came in the form of a loud explosion with sticky liquid showering over all of us. It was the coolest thing ever. What happened next was predictable. Each of us threw two or three cans into the fire. In short order, we were covered in warm soda. Even a twelve-year-old boy finds stickiness from head to toe bothersome.
We all raced down to the creek and jumped in. At dusk, we made our way back to the camp. Mikey put more logs on the fire. Staring into the crackling fire mesmerized us as we told each other stories with varying degrees of truth. The temperature began to drop dramatically, then a light rain. We unpacked our gear and moved into the tents. I climbed into my sleeping bag to discover that it was soaked from exploding soda cans.
As I went to sleep, it was a little cold, but I was tough. I awoke two hours later. The bottom half of my sleeping bag was frozen and the ground was covered with two inches of snow. We trekked to the nearest farm house and used their phone to call my dad at two in the morning. My dad came to rescue us.
Several camping lessons were learned well that day. First, don’t throw full cans of soda into a fire. Second, you need a spark to start a fire. Then, you need someone to carry the torch for a little while until the largest part of the organization finally catches fire. Once the organization is ablaze with a shared vision, the sparks are used to stoke the fire from time to time to inspire everyone to burn their brightest. Who helps you keep the fire burning?