By Ava Casab (’23)
“I’m still confused as to why we’re all here again,” Allie says. It’s late July, just past seven in the evening. She’s standing to the side, watching as the rest of us try to light the fire.
“We’re making a fire so we can make s’mores,” Lily responds from her position to the left of Allie. “Partially because our parents are trying to make us socialize, but mainly because s’mores are delicious,”
Ella nods silently in agreement. She’s crouched down in front of her, trying to get the logs to stand up in a teepee shape so we can add some pine needles and dryer lint. We learned how to make fires back during Girl Scouts, years ago in seventh grade. Later, our troop got disbanded, right before eighth grade, when everyone had been too busy and our schedules too chaotic to organize monthly meetings, let alone field trips.
Xander looks up from where he’s standing. The rest of the group follows shortly, save for Ella who’s setting up the structure for the fire. The clouds above us are pearly white, dotted sparingly against an otherwise clear blue sky. In about a half-hour, the calm blue expanse above us will begin to turn dark, clearing the way for the dark blanket of night.
“Caitlin, you brought the materials for s’mores, right?” I ask. There’s still an hour to go until we start toasting marshmallows, but Caitlin is notorious for forgetting to bring what she says she will, and I refuse to miss out on s’mores.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” she replies, her voice laced with a mysterious tone.
I sigh, peering out into the wilderness surrounding us. It was an hour-long hike to get here, but it was worth it. Not far away, a dense forest sprouts out of the ground. The river next to us flows slowly and steadily, twisting its way through the grasslands and into the forest. It feels like something out of a dream; pristine, beautiful, untouched by man. The air is clean and fresh, much different from the smog of the city. It’s sad to think of what this place could become in a few decades. Someone is bound to build houses here, construct roads, or erect an office building. Money is more important than nature to a businessman. Even so, they’ll get their payback soon. The game of “follow the leader” we were taught as children is falling apart. One of these days, someone will fall out of line. That will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
“Match, please,” Ella says, holding out her hand expectantly. Lily tosses her a matchbox, and Ella somehow manages to catch it without looking up. I still don’t know how she does it; I suppose it’s just one of her quirks. She takes out a match, lighting it with deadly precision, and brings it to the pine needles under the teepee she built. In a matter of seconds, they begin to burn, flames licking the logs around the needles and spreading through them in only a few moments. It’s mesmerizing, watching the orange and red tendrils wrap their way around the wood, managing to light a few sticks. Chatter begins to emerge among the others. I soon found myself wrapped into a conversation, the heat and light of the fire an afterthought of the thoughts racing through my mind.
Before I know it, the sky is dark, and someone is pulling out graham crackers and chocolate and marshmallows. I grab a metal toasting stick and one of the marshmallows and hold the fluffy, sugary treat on the stick towards the bottom of the fire. Caitlin immediately puts her white confection in the flame, watching it light and crisp into a burnt, black wad of sugar. It falls in a few seconds later. Undeterred, she grabs another one, this time pulling it out as it begins to fall. I keep mine low, turning it around as it slowly browns its way to perfection.
As everyone begins to grab the graham crackers and chocolate squares, I simply pull mine off the stick and bite a small piece off. The browned sides taste like caramel, a deep, almost nutty treat next to the soft pull of puffy, slightly melted marshmallow next to it. There’s nothing like a freshly toasted marshmallow- the way it stretches and bends, sticking to your fingers and leaving you licking them constantly.
Sitting there, listening to the soft chatter of Ella and Lily, Xander and Allie, and everyone else here, I am reminded of what it feels like to be part of something- not just as a person, but as an undeniable part of something bigger than myself.
It’s pretty nice, actually.
Watching the river flow onwards, through the dirt and around stones, bending through trees before disappearing into the woods, I sigh before reaching into the bag to grab another marshmallow.