What do we do when the sunset is gone? Those who are easily amused, like me, could spend the whole evening just starring at the fire and gazing at the stars. (The older you get the easier it is to just enjoy the simple things.) But if you have some young or otherwise easily bored folks here are a few of our favorite things to do:
Storytelling - the old standby.
For those who don't know how to tell stories, I suggest, you go listen to someone who does. Watch your local paper for storytelling events in your area. Go see them and talk to the performers afterwards. You may even find they are wonderful people who eventually become your friends. If you have a big event - hire them! It's the perfect touch for certain gatherings. Also read stories. The internet is loaded with them. These " Letter from Home " story telling cd's do a great job of mixing stories and song. Tony Norris is one of the best storytellers in the southwest.
Here's a link to Jim Cook "Arizona's official state liar". See the Journal of Prevarication. He is the master at spinning a tall tale.
Once you get the hang of it consider trying to write a few yourself. I write true stories of things that happened to me when I was growing up. Here's an example - A Tale of an Arizona Flash Flood. You'll be surprised how much people, especially your kids, enjoy hearing the stories of your youth around a camp fire.
Sometime back I took to reciting cowboy poetry which also turns out to be a real crowd pleaser. This is not really a cowboy poem although, seems to me, cowboys have been known to claim whatever poem they choose to recite.
And finally, be sure to make your stories appropriate to your audience. You will find stories can scare or comfort your listeners. Little kids, and some of the rest of us, are easy to scare when surrounded by the black ether of the outdoors night. Choose your stories wisely.
Music and campfire rounds -
Here's my personal favorite. If you play an instrument, the campfire provides you with a captive audience. If not, there are a lot of appropriate camp fire songs you can find on the internet. Rounds are really cool if you have enough people.
One of the first things any outdoor person should learn is how to find the north star just in case you find yourself 'on the trail' after dark. But in addition to that, there are a lot of wonderful things to observe if you take the time to learn how to find them. Just looking at the moon with binoculars can be pretty cool but if you have a telescope (even a spotting scope) it's awesome. Still, stare gazing is best on a moonless night especially out away from city lights. Many planets and some nebulae are easy to find once you get the hang of locating constellations.
Night Walking -
Most people don't realize how well you can see at night ( without the help of flashlights and lanterns). I mean even on a moonless night. The secret is to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. It usually takes about 15 minutes. Hopefully you'll be camped back in the boonies off a dirt road away from lights, cars and other people. Try night walking down the road for a mile or two. You might want to take the flashlight but don't use it . See if you don't agree that at some point your mind takes on a different kind of consciousness. The thing about night walking is to learn to use your peripheral vision. Strangely you see things by 'not' looking at them, so to speak. In low light conditions you look to the side of what your trying to see. Night walking takes a little practice but I'll bet you like it!
Cooking desserts -
Roasting marshmallows and fixing smores are probably the two most popular camping desserts. My guess is that both were invented more to amuse the kids than anything else. Of course, the internet has brought us a whole array of other cooking possibilities including banana boats aptly demonstrated here by young friend Kari Joy.
They look a little messy for me. One could use a knife to put small slits in the banana instead of scooping the banana out. Then alternately push chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or even peanuts instead, pieces of marshmallow, and possibly small pieces of gram cracker into the slits. Then put the 'flap' back up and roast it that way. With any luck it would come out a little less gooey. Remember this is done for entertainment purposes not for nourishment.
The camp fire - the camp TV
Now I know we have all been told not to play in the fire and the fire represents a particularly salient danger to the very young among us. Still, my bet is that since the discovery of fire, man has played in it. The pretty much ultimate fire game is the grease bomb. The up side of this procedure is that it effectively demonstrates the danger of throwing water on burning grease. If you are doing it for the first time, be sure to preface it with the comment "this is why you don't throw water on burning grease". And yes, this same ' ball of fire' can happen on your kitchen stove at home if you throw water on burning grease. And when that fireball hits the paint on the walls you get an instantaneous chain reaction that is very hard to stop. It really is a good thing to know.