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The Open Fire Henry van Dyke

Lighting Up

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"It is a vulgar notion that a fire is only for heat. A chief value of it is, however, to look at. And it is never twice the same."-- CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER: Backlog Studies.

Man is the animal that has made friends with the fire.

All the other creatures, in their natural state, are afraid of it. They look upon it with wonder and dismay. It fascinates them, sometimes, with its glittering eyes in the night. The squirrels and the hares come pattering softly towards it through the underbrush around the new camp. The fascinated deer stares into the blaze of the jack-light while the hunter's canoe creeps through the lily-pads. But the charm that masters them is one of dread, not of love. It is the witchcraft of the serpent's lambent look. When they know what it means, when the heat of the fire touches them, or even when its smell comes clearly to their most delicate sense, they recognize it as their enemy, the Wild Huntsman whose red hounds can follow, follow for days without wearying, growing stronger and more furious with every turn of the chase. Let but a trail of smoke drift down the wind across the forest, and all the game for miles and miles will catch the signal for fear and flight.

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Many of the animals have learned how to make houses for themselves. The CABANE of the beaver is a wonder of neatness and comfort, much preferable to the wigwam of his Indian hunter. The muskrat knows how thick and high to build the dome of his waterside cottage, in order to protect himself against the frost of the coming winter and the floods of the following spring. The woodchuck's house has two or three doors; and the squirrel's dwelling is provided with a good bed and a convenient storehouse for nuts and acorns. The sportive otters have a toboggan slide in front of their residence; and the moose in winter make a "yard," where they can take exercise comfortably and find shelter for sleep. But there is one thing lacking in all these various dwellings,--a fireplace.

Man is the only creature that dares to light a fire and to live with it. The reason? Because he alone has learned how to put it out.

It is true that two of his humbler friends have been converted to fire-worship. The dog and the cat, being half-humanized, have begun to love the fire. I suppose that a cat seldom comes so near to feeling a true sense of affection as when she has finished her saucer of bread and milk, and stretched herself luxuriously underneath the kitchen stove, while her faithful mistress washes up the dishes. As for a dog, I am sure that his admiring love for his master is never greater than when they come in together from the hunt, wet and tired, and the man gathers a pile of wood in front of the tent, touches it with a tiny magic wand, and suddenly the clear, consoling flame springs up, saying cheerfully, "Here we are, at home in the forest; come into the warmth; rest, and eat, and sleep." When the weary, shivering dog sees this miracle, he knows that his master is a great man and a lord of things.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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