by Tom Gold
What is it about sitting around a campfire at night that is so special?
Is it the light? The warmth? The sparks twisting away into the darkness?
Perhaps it’s feeling the cool breeze, or looking up and seeing the treetops and the stars beyond them.
Our early human ancestors discovered how to manipulate fire about 1.7 million years ago and it changed everything for them.
Eating meat that had been cooked in fire increased their protein uptake leading to improvements in stamina and muscular strength.
Heating certain types of rock in fire made them easier to work into tools and fire enabled them to harden the tips of wooden spears.
The ability to create what we now know as the campfire gave people a means to offset the cold and to ward away predators. It was also a reason to congregate in groups during the hours of darkness.
It was thrive or die for our ancient ancestors but it’s hard to believe that even with all the hardship and uncertainties they faced there wasn’t a time when they all just sat in silence round the fire, each lost in his own thoughts.
While we have largely abandoned all the other elements of their hunter gatherer lifestyle this one still one works. It’s in still our nature, the great outdoors is still the environment we were designed and built for and when we’ve finally finished uploading our campfire pics to our social media channels and done griping about our jobs to all our mates there’s going to come a moment when everyone is just quietly watching the flames or the stars or listening to the wind in the trees (ask me how I know this). I believe that in that moment we’ve briefly ‘come home’. You don’t need to bare your soul or tearfully comment on the futility of your life, you only have to be there.
5 Reasons to get out there
That’s right, learning to exist in nature and be ready for whatever it throws at you will make you feel awesome. If you can learn to split wood with a hatchet then build and ignite a fire then you’ve mastered one of the most game changing outdoor skills there is. You’d be amazed how easy it is and how few people know how to do it.
2 Decreased stress levels.
Whether it’s sitting by the fire, looking at trees, or going for a short walk around your neighborhood, time spent in nature can seriously help reduce your stress levels. In fact, researchers in Japan (where the concept of ‘forest bathing’ originated) have discovered that sitting in natural surroundings can drastically boost your immune system while simultaneously lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.
3 Shedding excess baggage
The natural environment has a way of steering us down the path of what we actually need to do and bring in order to stay healthy and productive or to achieve our objectives. Amazingly you can meet all your needs with what’s in your rucksack, even for an extended stay in the wilderness and perhaps, even more surprisingly, you can sometimes be happier and more fulfilled as a result. It can also serve as a powerful analogy for identifying elements of your life that bring you joy and get you closer to your objectives and which ones don’t.
The practice of gratitude is one of the most time-tested and proven methods for enhancing our resilience. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. That being the case it’s a wonder we make so little conscious effort to experience it. If there is a better way to appreciate having a roof over my head than spending time in nature I haven’t found it yet. If you’ve ever watched a storm roll in over the city of Glasgow from the heights Cathkin Braes or experienced fifty mile an hour winds on the footway of the Erskine Bridge you’ll know what I mean.
The more wild and inhospitable it gets the more I appreciate my couch and TV when I get back to them!
5 Green exercise
At this time of year might be thinking you’d rather be somewhere warm if you’re going to exercise.
Taking a rucksack and heading out into the trees, setting up camp, tensioning tarp lines, sourcing and processing firewood with saw and axe and collecting rocks to ring the fireplace are all forms of exercise. It might seem daunting at this time of year and it can be tough but crucially, unlike thrashing the treadmill or the exercise bike or lifting weights only to put them down again, green exercise almost always benefits you and those around you and usually sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t have to involve bushcraft and you certainly don’t have to be alone. Scotland has plenty of conservation groups who meet regularly to plant trees, lay paths, clear brush and build picnic tables etc.
Or you could go to the gym, plug your earphones in and hammer the treadmill for an hour while watching Sky Sports.