The discovery of how to light and control fire has been a major factor in the progress of humanity.
I stared into the campfire last week, mesmerized by the dancing orange flames and the glowing embers beneath. As I brushed off the occasional popping ember from my cotton jacket before it could burn a hole through the fabric, I felt the fire’s warmth and appreciated how the light kept the night at bay. Millennia ago, I would have appreciated the opportunity to cook my meat and at the same time enjoy relative safety as saber-tooth tigers and dire wolves slinked outside the light, wary of the flames.
We are pretty wrapped up these days in the negative impacts of fire when it gets out of control, to the point that we forget that many of us depend upon fire to keep us warm, heat our water, dry our clothes and cook our food.
It has been the ability to incorporate fire into our lives that has been at the core of our success as a species.
Although the ancient Greeks considered fire one of the basic elements of the universe along with earth, water and air, fire isn't a “thing”. Rather, fire is the visible, tangible side effect of matter changing form as part of a chemical reaction.
This may be easiest to explain by describing a primitive technology reportedly re-discovered by prisoners of war during the WWII. It is called a fire roll and consists of taking a cotton ball, unrolling it, adding a bit of cold ash and rolling it back up. It is then placed between two boards and rolled back and forth quickly under pressure. The friction generated—the introduction of heat—causes the cotton to smolder. Blow gently on the smoldering ends—add oxygen—and you get fire. I have tried it and it works.
So, the principle here is that you need a fuel (cotton) that you can introduce a source of heat (friction) to. When the heat source brings the fuel to around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, gases are released. When these gases meet with oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs and fire is the result. That is why wet wood won’t burn—because the heat source can’t get the wood to 300 degrees.
The real secret to fire is that this process creates a chain reaction where nearby fuel is heated and combustion occurs repeatedly. Break this chain reaction and the fire goes out. I can’t count the times my grandkids have smothered our campfire by putting too much or too large of fuel on the fire before the flames were strong, only to be disappointed because the fire, instead of roaring to life, fizzles out. They break the chain reaction by decreasing the oxygen flow and by adding fuel so large it cannot reach the 300-degree threshold.
When I look into a campfire, I see different colored flames which represent how hotly the fire is burning in given areas. Close to the ground, where much of the burning occurs, the fire is at its hottest and the flames are white (2,500 to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit), giving rise to the saying, “white-hot passion”. Just up from the white flames are the next hottest flames, yellow ones. Orange flames dominate a campfire with temperatures ranging from 1,800 to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Red flames are the coolest ranging from 900 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blue flames are actually as hot or hotter than white flames, burning from 2,300-3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but are different because they signify a complete burning of the fuel without leaving ash (unburnable material such as minerals), soot (incompletely burned carbon) smoke (unburned volatile compounds) or char, pure carbon. Propane and natural gas burn with a blue flame and can thus be used indoors—and they don’t produce carbon monoxide which is the product of incomplete combustion.
It takes three things to create and maintain fire: fuel, oxygen and heat. Isn’t that a metaphor for life? The fires in our hearts ignite when information and inspiration combine and then it is up to us to keep the chain reaction going.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho