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The Open Fire Henry van Dyke

The Smudge-Fire

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But enough of the cooking-fire. Let us turn now to the subject of the smudge, known in Lower Canada as LA BOUCANE. The smudge owes its existence to the pungent mosquito, the sanguinary black-fly, and the peppery midge,--LE MARINGOUIN, LA MOUSTIQUE, ET LE BRULOT. To what it owes its English name I do not know; but its French name means simply a thick, nauseating, intolerable smoke.

The smudge is called into being for the express purpose of creating a smoke of this kind, which is as disagreeable to the mosquito, the black-fly, and the midge as it is to the man whom they are devouring. But the man survives the smoke, while the insects succumb to it, being destroyed or driven away. Therefore the smudge, dark and bitter in itself, frequently becomes, like adversity, sweet in its uses. It must be regarded as a form of fire with which man has made friends under the pressure of a cruel necessity.

It would seem as if it ought to be the simplest affair in the world to light up a smudge. And so it is--if you are not trying.

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An attempt to produce almost any other kind of a fire will bring forth smoke abundantly. But when you deliberately undertake to create a smudge, flames break from the wettest timber, and green moss blazes with a furious heat. You hastily gather handfuls of seemingly incombustible material and throw it on the fire, but the conflagration increases. Grass and green leaves hesitate for an instant and then flash up like tinder. The more you put on, the more your smudge rebels against its proper task of smudging. It makes a pleasant warmth, to encourage the black-flies; and bright light to attract and cheer the mosquitoes. Your effort is a brilliant failure.

The proper way to make a smudge is this. Begin with a very little, lowly fire. Let it be bright, but not ambitious. Don't try to make a smoke yet.

Then gather a good supply of stuff which seems likely to suppress fire without smothering it. Moss of a certain kind will do, but not the soft, feathery moss that grows so deep among the spruce-trees. Half-decayed wood is good; spongy, moist, unpleasant stuff, a vegetable wet blanket. The bark of dead evergreen trees, hemlock, spruce, or balsam, is better still. Gather a plentiful store of it. But don't try to make a smoke yet.

Let your fire burn a while longer; cheer it up a little. Get some clear, resolute, unquenchable coals aglow in the heart of it. Don't try to make a smoke yet.

Now pile on your smouldering fuel. Fan it with your hat. Kneel down and blow it, and in ten minutes you will have a smoke that will make you wish you had never been born.

That is the proper way to make a smudge. But the easiest way is to ask your guide to make it for you.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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