The Matchless Fire

When I was twenty four I went into the bush for the first time. Oh, I’d been camping before, had spent a lot of time hiking the back country of wherever I happened to be living. But I never been out on the land with nothing but what I could carry.

            My friend Walter took me out. Walt was an old bush man. He’d been raised in an Ojibway trapping family and life in the bush was easy and familiar to him. I hadn’t been reconnected to my people for very long and he saw how ill at ease I was and how ashamed I was that I knew little about our peoples’ ways.

            So he took me out. All I had was a small rucksack that held some string, fish hooks, fishing line, a small axe, matches dipped in wax, a change of clothes and a blanket. It didn’t seem like nearly enough for the country we were headed into but Walt was carrying even less than I was.

            We walked in about fifteen miles. It was my first experience with feeling the land close off behind you, and I found the deep quiet unsettling. When we stopped Walt asked me to get the fire started. Once I’d gathered kindling he told me he wanted me to start it without matches and I almost laughed out loud.

            He took out a bow and drill and showed me how to use it. He had embers going in no times but when he handed it to me I struggled. In fact, I worked so hard that I was sweating and getting the drill wet with my perspiration. But he was patient and guided my efforts.

            It took me half an hour but I lit a fire with that bow and drill. Later, sitting around it, Walt told me stories of bush life and how my people had survived in it and built such a strong and resilient culture in it. He told me about learning from his grandfather and how, in the beginning, he too, did not know anything.

            Walt passed away when I was thirty but I’ve never forgotten that experience. See, it’s not the big, huge things that return us to who we are, it’s the magic of the small. It’s the one inch at a time journeys that makes it worth the while.

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About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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