My fingers throbbed against the cold as I raced to complete the final steps of the evening’s Mule. We were surrounded by the quiet of still twilight, the glow of bonfire dancing on the snow dusted cedars behind our evening camp. The only interruption to the serenity was the welcomed sound of laughter from fireside friends and occasional cheers of excitement from the small pack of our bundled-up kids, who raced around in and out of the shadows, unaffected by the cold.
An hour prior, Matt and I unpacked a simple and effective kit from the beds of pickups. We’ve gotten more efficient at planning these gatherings and the task of setting up in the out-of-doors with him takes on an almost unspoken understanding these days. Between the two of us, we’ve bought or built everything we could need to entertain away from the luxury of a kitchen. I’ve really come to enjoy our quick “pop-up” Handlebend sessions, and we both enjoy sharing the experience with family and friends.
I couldn’t help but smile and I watched the scene come together in the last light of day. Aesthetic work spaces, a bonfire pit, and a tool kit of supplies to build anything from supper to coffee or cocktails, and treats for that pack of wild kids. The cheerful spirit of the location and company had kept the cold from creeping in thus far. We stood near the old rusty steel barrel that has seen so many of these evenings with us and cracked a pair of ice-cold beers. “I think that’s about it” Matt observed, “Now we just need some folks” he added.
“You ready?” I asked. Without necessarily waiting on an answer, I struck a match and flicked it toward the old barrel. “Just like James Dean” I joked, as I watched my match land and fizzle on the pile of branches I’d built. It was anything but spectacular. Once more I tried – still with high hopes – and WHOOF! The evening had commenced.
Light faded quickly in our spot, tucked into a dusted row of cedars canopied by giant old cottonwoods. Our wives and kiddos arrived as the grays turned to blues, and eventually to black. Friends joined us soon after. The kids wailed and squealed on sleds towed over powder by Matt; they were most certainly fighting a narrow battle between fun and frozen. Copper, the adolescent chocolate lab, barked and chased the whole outfit in a manner that suggested he’d never tire.
We lined up half a dozen Handlebend mugs on an old sawed-off scrap of lumber, and began building cocktails by the firelight. Caramel apple was the inspiration for the evening’s Mule recipe; it was a consensus that they were acceptable, in the least.
As the sleigh ride came to a close, kiddos filtered into the huddle, warming up rosy cheeks and chilly little fingers. We had no trouble coaxing kiddos through supper – a theme I am finding to be recurring when eating out-of-doors. Cookies, roasted marshmallows, hot chocolate, and campfire coffee were distributed soon after.
These little outings have landed a very special place within our lives. For me, they are considered necessary. In the world we currently find ourselves pinned beneath, it is impeccable that we find a way to dissolve the pressure. To unplug outside, to gather with friends around campfires and conversation, to build these little memories with our growing families is good for the soul. The welcoming glow of a campfire has an interesting way of commanding your total attention; it allows all the outside noise to fall away. It provides a place to be totally present within the moment and that, I believe, is something we could all use a little more of.