Lighting a Fire Under Myself, by Matthew B.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Heinlein’s quote leaves me feeling about half an inch tall and roughly the length of a worker bee. I was raised to trust God, not government, and my education through high school and college covered several areas of study so that I thought I could learn just about anything.  Quickly adapting to a changing environment? No problem!  I was ready.

There was even some anecdotal evidence that I could handle whatever was thrown at me.  Two month-long trips to the Amazon jungle left me none the worse for wear.  I picked up Spanish while floating down the river and learned that all gear is not created equal (Seychelles’ Advanced flip-top water filtration bottle makes Amazon River water safe for gringos to drink, while EMS’ Atwater-Carey Sleep Screen mosquito netting makes your feet a mosquito’s smorgasbord even if you’re wearing socks!).  I relied heavily on SteriPEN’s handheld UV water purifier while traveling through India, Nepal and Myanmar, which meant I could utilize whatever water the locals were drinking without any gastrointestinal discomfort.  Visiting these developing nations opened my eyes to what it truly took to sustain life: mostly air, water, and some bananas.

When my older brother recommended that I visit, I was mildly interested but still self-satisfied enough to think that I was better-prepared than 95% of the people around me.  My brother further evidenced his desire to prod me in the right direction by putting together a little emergency kit with some basic first aid supplies, a signal mirror, and a Light My Fire Firesteel flint.  I never thought something as small as that flint could be such a blight and a blessing, but it changed the way I look survival preparedness.

I decided to take my Firesteel on a camping trip with my wife and five kids.  We had never camped as a family before and the kids are young, so I decided to keep it tame and get a campsite at a nearby State Park.  Setting up the tent was fun(ny) and we had a good time roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and singing songs around the campfire. 

Once we got all the kids relatively settled in their sleeping bags, I decided to relax by the fire and fiddle with my Firesteel flint.  At first, I approached it rather laconically.  We didn’t need a fire since we already had one going and were getting ready to hit the sack, but it turned into a challenge as I made strike after strike without being able to get any tinder to catch fire. Lots of sparks. No flames.

What made it worse was that the striker I was using had a rough edge that quickly tore into my right index finger, leaving it raw and painful.  I switched hands and kept at, thinking that any moment my kindling was going to burst into flame.  The rain that doused our fire also put out my hopes of getting a fire going with that flint.  I gave up and retired to my sleeping bag.

As I lay in the tent nursing my wounds (literally), I realized a couple of things:

First, Always test the equipment you are going to use in emergency situations (Try it before you rely on it).  I know how easy it is supposed to be to use one of these flints.  I’ve seen the YouTube video of the ten-year-old girl starting a roaring blaze in just one try. But just because it can work or should work doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Secondly, The duct tape my brother had so thoughtfully included in my emergency kit would have made a great cover for the handle of the flint striker!  Always keep your eyes open and your brain in gear.  It could spare you some discomfort, or save your life! I’m just glad my family was happily in our tent instead of waiting on me to get the fire going for our evening meal.  They need me to be thinking clearly, to be prepared.

And so, eventually, I became very grateful for that experience with my Firesteel (I think it’s a good product, by the way, and they have a new striker with a rubberized grip).  It humbled me and taught me to evaluate and test the tools I am planning on using when my family will need them most: TEOTWAWKI.  It taught me that there were some critical areas in which my specialized training won’t cut it. Like being a worker bee, when what’s needed is a fully-capable human being.  I can’t afford to be buzzing around when my family is relying on me to provide for them and protect them, come what may.