When I first went up to Christine's family's summer place at Lake Matinenda one of the first things I built was a fire circle. I cleared away the saplings around the site, cleared away the duff, roots and rhizomes (because that stuff can burn, even underground), and collected a variety of large rocks. I built the fire pit about a yard across (that's a metre for everyone but the USians) with a base of large boulders ringed with smaller, more decorative rocks. Then I pounded the soil down and set up some logs and dug-up stumps around the perimeter for seating. There were stone markers pointing North, South, East and West for ritual purposes, and I even trimmed away any tree branches that I thought might catch fire, set a couple of buckets of water around (because only we can prevent forest fires).
Then I set to and gathered wood. All the day's saplings I'd piled up to dry, but I gathered a pile of old stakes and the detritus from previous clearings, and sought some suitable logs ready to cut up. These made two piles outside the circle, along with a basket for kindling. It was chest-beatingly immense. Proud of my work, I called Christine outside to admire what I had wrought.
"Great!", she said, "It will be perfect for family get-togethers!"
"And we can cook on it, too", I replied.
Did you ever see an owl turn its head right around to look over its shoulder? That was Christine's response, followed by the question "Cook over a fire that size?"
"Sure, what's wrong with that?" I asked.
"Too big, is what's wrong with that. You need a squaw fire".
And thus I was educated.
I have no idea where the term came from; for all I know it's something of her invention. Nevertheless the story she tells is that men are interested only in the fire itself; the size, the power, the might and the testament to their masculinity. Remember that scene from Cast Away, in which Tom Hanks' character beats his chest and shouts "I have made fire!" That, according to Christine, is a man's fire. It will scare wolves and bears or attract the attention of ships and planes if you're marooned, but it's not a good fire to cook on.
She demonstrated later that evening, gathering for herself old twigs and broken branches. She dug away the duff, set some stones in the depression, made a tripod out of sticks and a hook out of that thing from the outhouse that no-one knew its purpose. Then she laid her fire. She started with some dried grass and tiny twigs, built it up and started adding larger sticks in a sort of flat pyramid. The whole thing when finished was the size of my hand span. It was a tiny wee fire.
She cooked dinner over this, boiling water in a dutch oven that she later hung off the tripod to cook the veggies. Bacon and sausages sizzled in a skillet. There was a kettle for tea. The whole fire would have fit in a pocket of my kilt. At the end, as we were eating, she smiled up at me and said simply, "That's a squaw fire". Of course the meal was delicious, but I bet that satisfaction made it the best meal of the whole vacation for her.
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