Weather Forecast


Cracker Barrel: Tenders of the flame

Ah, winter. ‘Tis the time when a northlander’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of flame.

Late at night, when the TV has given up its ghostly light, when the lines blur on the pages of your book, when it’s too late to go for a walk and too early to see if the car will start, then it is time to stare at the flames.

Any flame will do. The fire in the fireplace. The woodstove. A kerosene lamp. A candle. A kitchen match. Whatever.

Consider, as you stare, how utterly your life depends upon the magic we call fire. Without it, primitive humans would still be hunkered down in caves. Had our forbears not managed some 500,000 years ago to domesticate the flame, the world as we know it would not exist.

Nearly every human activity depends at some point upon the ability to light and control a fire. Agriculture, architecture, pottery, metalworking, cooking, heating, illumination — all depend on fire. As does living here in the north woods. Without the ability to temper the temperature, we couldn’t exist outside the tropics.

Think of it. Upon the little point of flame that undulates before your eyes, all things depend. Take it away, and the modern world vanishes. Without it there would be no America, no apple pie, no Chevrolets, no smog. No Minnesota, no buttered rum, no snowmobiles, no lutefisk. We think of bread as the staff of life, but without fire we would have no bread. Fire is our chief defense against oblivion. It, not the dog, is truly man’s best friend.

The hour grows late. You rise from your chair to place a night log on the fire. In the dance of flames you sense a fleeting paradigm of life.

The life force burns within you, smokeless and invisible, but a fire nonetheless. Starve it for fuel and it will go out. Damper it too tightly through illness or idleness or loss of caring and it will gutter to mere embers. Fan it with curiosity, with love, with enthusiasm and delight, and it will burn strong and bright, warming and lighting the way for others as well as yourself.

We are all tenders of the flame, charged with a vital task. We must keep the fires burning; the fire on the hearth and the fire within.

We must keep the sacred flame alive.

(Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at