Fresh Air Fun: Of bongos and bonfires

4 mins read

The fire pit is an age-old tradition in Maine. (Photo by Darryl Wood)

Of the five seasons in Maine, the only one that doesn’t get my full appreciation is mud season. Snowmobiling is over and spring fishing has yet to begin. At home, the dog gets the couch dirty, and the boots must come off before you cross the threshold. Once mud season is over, spring is full of hope, fiddleheads, and trout, even though sometimes it lasts well into June. Fall, in its autumn glory, suffers barely enough time for hunting, gathering, and hiking with its warm days and cool creeping nights. There can be a sense of urgency to do stuff knowing what’s coming next. Winter, with its stark beauty and short days, forces us to both deal with it and revel in it. Yet summer, glorious summer, is what we live for in Maine. With nearly seven more hours of daylight on June 1 than Jan. 1, there is time to both work and play all in the same day.

An age-old tradition in Maine is the fire pit. They come in all shapes and sizes, and more recently manufactured with names like Chiminea, Solo Stove or Deckmate. While the manufactured models are great for back deck or front yard, the real Maine fire pit is larger, lined by rocks and serves the dual purposes of fireside entertainment and elimination of organic yard waste.

People take pride in both their fire pits and in the size and quality of their fires. When all the components come together, it’s time to invite some friends and family over to make an evening of it. Of course, this involves food and beverages, including the ever-popular red hotdog on a stick, s’mores and the half-burned half-raw marshmallow mouth extravaganza.

When the stars align perfectly, people bring their instruments, and a jam breaks out. An old guitar or two, a set of bongos, a harmonica and several human voices can make for several hours of lively soul enriching relaxation. Nobody knows all the words, just sing.

Another fun trick is finding a hollow log, stuffing it with combustibles and lighting it from the bottom. It will create a chimney effect which includes sound effects and a light show. The perfect hollow log is solid hardwood and at least a foot around. These can go for an hour or more and are perfect cooking apparatus for the red hotdog on a stick.

For the truly adventurous, in perfect conditions, a series of dry hardwood sticks, set up with longer ones over smaller ones in several layers can create a flaming tornado. We have done these flaming tornadoes to the extent that you can stand around them in the rain and not get wet. On a warm summer day, timed just before a thunderstorm arrives, this is good redneck entertainment for the whole gang.

Of course, the reason for the fire pit, or chiminea for that matter, is to contain the fire. A responsible bonfire professional always assesses the conditions and burns appropriately, keeping dousing water available and acquiring an open burn permit when necessary. When in doubt, get the permit here.

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