This was a good read this morning, sitting in the garden outside the chapel with a nice Alec Bradley Prensado Maduro. I was struck by the fact that the dwarves couldn’t get a fire lit in the rain. I got to thinking about when I first read the Hobbit, around 5th or 6th grade and about the same time I discovered the Taran Wanderer series by Lloyd Alexander. In the first Taran book “The Black Cauldron” Taran the boy pigkeeper for the Wizard loses the enchanted pig Hen-Wen and goes in search of her. In the woods he meets an old warrior who has wilderness skills he uses to help Taran find the pig, including making fire, finding edible roots and tracking.
These two passages, looking back, are I think what led me to develop such an early love, not just for camping which I had been doing for some time, but for serious wilderness skills. I didn’t want to just go camping, I wanted to know wilderness, to be able to survive, find food, water, shelter and help others. To know the animals, where they lived, what they ate, and everything else.
So, here I will give a short course on what the Dwarves should have done. Since the Trolls are burning Beech logs and there is mention of a nearby stream I assume they are on relatively low ground among mixed hardwoods. The best thing to do here is look for a small grove of evergreens, pine or holly or any other bushy area where the ground underneath might be a bit dryer. There, you pinch off the top inch or so of duff. Underneath you will find dry stuff. If not there, look underneath a fallen log that is slightly off the ground, both the ground underneath it and the underside of the log may have dryer stuff. Build your fire on top of the dry duff so the fire doesn’t have to compete with the added moisture of steam from the heated ground as it gets going. Take small twigs from the standing dead trees or evergreens. If these are wet, take dead, standing trees about 3” in diameter and cut into billets as long as your arm or so. Take your large knife and place it on the end of the billet near the edge. You will take another billet and strike the top of the blade, driving it down the billet, splitting off the wetter outside. Go around it till you have removed the outside edge. The billet will now be 2/3 the diameter when you started. Split this the same way till you have a pile of sticks between toothpick and pencil size. This is your kindling. Make 2-3 times as much as you think you need. Either skin more billets or find small sticks, pencil to thumb size for your initial fire lay. Lastly, prepare your tinder. Most likely this will come from a small tin you should have on you, along with your flint and steel as the dwarves would have had. A piece of jute rope unraveled works well, as does cotton/cattail duff/tinder fungus prepared by charring in a previous fire inside the tin. This char or twine will catch your spark. It should lie on a nest of slightly larger stuff, from hair size up to bird nest size not crushed together too tightly, you need airflow. Strike your spark and catch, then wrap in nest and blow till you have flame. Place this in the center of the fire lay, teepee or log cabin, and slowly add kindling pieces till you have a solid coal base and the fire lay begins to catch. Pile wetter wood around to dry, but don’t block the wind unless it is very strong.