Roaring Fires in the Night Sky



  • Being rescued by the fire men (1:15)

  • Being rescued by the fire men … again! (6:05)

  • The big questions are a big opportunity (11:25)

Roaring Fires in the Night Sky

I went camping a few weekends ago, and it was a new experience for me. We took our travel trailer, which we hadn’t taken on the road for any length of time, nor had we stayed in it in an offsite location like a campground. We had an absolutely great time.

It was a stretch. It was a risk. But do you know one thing I noticed as we were out camping? I noticed the power of the big questions to unify us, regardless of differences in our background, where we come from, or our belief systems.

When there’s a big question or a big problem to solve that impacts everybody, people come together. Let me tell you a little more about what I mean…


We purchased a couple of bundles of firewood from the campground store, and I wasn’t sure about it from the start. It was a really dark, oily-looking wood, but, you know, it was what they were selling, so it must be good, right?

Now, I’m pretty good at building fires. I’ve been tent camping for quite a while, so building fires is not something that I’m not used to doing. And so, I put all the wood in the appropriate tepee style with the kindling underneath and some fire starters in there, yet all we could get was a smoky, smoldering poor excuse for a campfire. It was pretty sad.

But I persevered! I poked at it, and I used newspaper to fan some oxygen in there, but instead of dancing flames crackling and sparkling into the night sky, I had a pretty horrible, smoky mess.

Our campsite was situated in a bend in the road with a whole bunch of campers across the little dirt street from us – some families that were there together, maybe five or six campgrounds.

I had cooked dinner on our little portable Weber grill, and as we sat down to eat, all of a sudden, out of the darkness, two burly men from the campgrounds across the street appeared right out of the darkness, right in front of us.

One had a blowtorch in his hand, and the other had some kind of high-powered blowing device that looked like the motor from a leaf blower. And I heard, “Ma’am, we’d like to help get your fire going for you.”

“Okay!” I said, and the other man said, “We’ve been watching you struggle with that bad wood, and we brought a box of better wood for you.”

Now, all day, I’d been noticing this man dressed in Carhartt overalls and work boots standing next to his giant smoker, smoking the fish he’d caught. He was from the group of families occupying the campsite across the road, and everything about the physical presentation of these folks appeared to be the polar opposite of us.

People who know me know I’m pretty liberal. I have a liberal lifestyle. I have a same-sex partner. I’m spiritual, but I would not call myself religious in terms of organized religion, that’s for sure. And I would say these families were exactly the opposite, right down to saying grace before every meal ­– a beautiful tradition, not saying there’s anything wrong with it, I’m just saying we were probably on the opposite ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum.

So, it was interesting to me that they appeared at our campsite and offered to help us. And I was pretty happy because, as one of the gentlemen said, “Everyone needs a big, beautiful fire to sit around during an evening of camping.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Well, they worked away, blowing and torching and applying the giant split logs he kept taking out of the back of his truck. The four of us chatted about things, like where we lived, how long we’d been camping, and what we liked about our trailers, but mostly about the fire – the importance of fire, the beauty of fire, the best wood to get the best fire going, and the best way to sustain it.

You see, those two men and us two women, we had little in common except for the big question of how to get the best fire going. And it was enough.


The next morning, all of those families left, and two new couples arrived to take their place. As they set up their camp, it was clear that they arrived to do some heavy drinking and listen to music, and they set up their campsite to facilitate sitting around the campfire for a long period of time.

They talked really loud to each other, and some of their statements were pretty off-color. The two men were young, I’d guess in their early thirties, significantly younger than we are. They were heavily tattooed, and I love beautiful tattoos – my son-in-law has several, and one of my daughters has a few – but these were a homegrown, angry type of tattoo.

Again, our campground neighbors were a sharp contrast to us – two middle-aged women, tattoo-less, with our matching Tommy Bahama camp chairs having a non-drinking night (we’d already consumed our wine the evening before).

Earlier that day, we went into town to go hiking, and we picked up some kindling, fire starter bricks, and some paper because I was determined to get our beautiful fire going that night.

But again, the wood just wouldn’t catch. The flames I was hoping for just weren’t materializing, and once again, we had a lot of smoldering in our fire ring. It was a hot fire, hot enough to boil corn for our dinner, but there were no big flames. So I resigned myself to the fact that, once again, we weren’t going to have a rip-roaring fire crackling and dancing in the night sky.

Until, all of a sudden, out of the darkness – once again – two men appeared. But this time, it was the two tattooed men from the campground across the way.

Both dressed in camouflage, they appeared at the very edge of our campsite and said, “Ladies, would it be okay if we got your fire going for you?” Close up, in the light cast up at them by their flashlight, it was easy to see that Life hadn’t necessarily been as kind to these two as it had been to us. They had a lot of deep scars among the lines in their skin, and their tattoos were even a little more harsh close-up.

But in their arms, they held a blowtorch, a plastic bin filled with wood from the lumber mill where one of the gentlemen worked, and a can of lighter fluid.

I glanced across the way to their fire pit, and their flames were high and proud. I said, “I envy your campfire.”

One of the gentlemen said, “The only reason to come camping is to sit around a roaring fire and drink and talk and laugh.” The other said, “I work in a lumber mill, and I brought a truckload of hardwood that burns fast. Once we get this fire going, I’m going to go grab you a whole bunch more.”

He walked away, but his friend stayed, and he said quietly, “I’d rather be home in my living room with my TV, but my wife wanted to come today.”

We chatted a bit more as he worked on the fire, and then his wife wandered over with their young pit bull, who was a shy, well-behaved little girl. “We got her at a rescue just hours before she was scheduled to be put down. We just couldn’t let it happen,” the wife said, “and now I had to bring her over to see my husband because she gets so worried when she doesn’t understand where he goes.”

There was a sweet gentleness to this man under the harshness of his scars and tattoos, and before long, once again, our fire was rip-roaring.


They returned to their campsite, and we sat at our fire ring while they sat around theirs on the other side of the road, and I reflected upon how we, as humans, can so easily come together around common big questions like how to get a rip-roaring campfire going.

We – my partner plus the two gentlemen who helped us that night or the two from the night before – would likely not have connected in any other setting. We’re too dissimilar or, at least, my judgment (which is all I can manage or control) would have discounted them really quickly.

But the big question of creating the fire provided a brief and powerful connection, an opportunity for all of us to share and be seen and be heard.

As we sat there enjoying our fire, I thought about how big questions can help create community. It can create community in workplaces; it can create community and connection out in the world. I considered how big questions can bring us together to collaborate, to innovate, to teach, to share resources, to connect, and to feel like we’re all contributing to the good of the whole.

I frequently use big questions in my workshops, in my training, and in my coaching. Today, I invite you to think about this: What are the big questions that can help you create connection, create community, collaborate, problem solve, and innovate for the good of the whole, and with people you may discount at face value.

Thanks for tuning in,