August 09, 2009

More Lessons from the Campfire

I was camping in Yosemite National Park last month (missed Angela Lloyd by a week, I didn't know they invited storytellers in for workshops and concerts). The first night, my family and I went to the ranger-led campfire program. The interpretive program was on the "spirit" of the mountains (as expressed through artists and poets), and the audience sat on fixed benches in an amphitheater style arrangement, with the presenter sharing the stage with the actual campfire. That night, the ranger shared a personal story of climbing in Bhutan and invited stories from the gathering. Afterwards, she told me she hadn't quite known how to work in a traditional tale she'd learned in Bhutan, which she then told to my family (and to my 8-year old's delight, it had a more scatological ending than the version he'd heard from Laura Simms).

Once friends joined us in Yosemite, we had our own campfires each night in our campsite, where I told stories, after marshmallows had been roasted.

Some thoughts in comparing the two campfires:
The fire for the official ranger-led program we saw had at least eight logs in it, it was quite bright, and with both the light of the fire and the dusk (the program was at 7:00, so it was before sunset), the ranger was clearly visible (and the only one standing on the stage).
Our family campfire had just three logs in it, and usually the stories didn't start until after marshmallows had been roasted and the sun had gone down. Kids and parents were nestled in camping chairs drawn around in a tight circle around the fire pit. The fire was not roaring. It was a cozy, small flame. I, as the storyteller, also in a camping chair, was only dimly visible. And as the night wore on, less so, as the fire died down.

And though I took the role of the storyteller around the fire, just as the ranger had, the simply fact of darkness made the fire, and not me, the focal point for the audience's eyes. Though I was "onstage," and telling the story, there wasn't much point in looking at the storyteller. They were doing the imagining-- the "heavy lifting" of the story-- internally. Nice how something as simple as a campfire can remind us of that.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Oh, but it's not heavy lifting at all, it's light and free. And in the presence of a good teller, it's imperceptible as work.