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  • Paul Tappenden

Building a Wilderness Fire Pit

Almost 40 years ago, my wife and I invested in a piece of land up in the wilds of NY state, which consisted of roughly 40 acres of woodland and meadow. Even though we could barely afford it, it turned out to be the perfect place for us to get away and escape from the usual insanity that surrounded our lives, being so close to the city, and working in the motion picture industry.

We managed to clear a spot overlooking a swimming hole in the creek that dissected our property and we build a small cosy shelter. We cleared and flattened an area big enough to pitch a 10’ x 14’ tent, so we managed to stay there in relative comfort.

When I retired from the business, after a kidney transplant, I began to take groups of friends up to the land, on camping adventures and gradually the areas in which we could pitch tents began to expand, until we were able to fit four to five tents quite comfortably (if you consider sleeping on the ground comfortable).

The problem at this point was that the original fire place I had built was hardly adequate to cook for so many people, so we all agreed that it was time to build a bigger, more efficient model. Luckily, the rock upon which this land sat was all shale, which broke up into convenient flat rocks, ideal for building. To help level and seat these rocks we had the fine shale and river mud from the creek.

Our two biggest members, Eric and Peter, set about finding large slabs of rock to act as pad on which to build the fires and a reflecting wall, for the back of the fire place. In the meantime, the rest of us went about gathering rocks of the right shape and size from along the creek.

Gradually throughout the day the fire pit took shape. Once we had created a flat and solid base, Eric and Peter managed, with a small tree trunk and slings, to carry back some pieces of rock that I couldn’t have conceived of budging, let alone to carry them up to the fire pit.

However, with strength, determination and some mechanical knowhow, these two were soon sliding the pieces into place. By late afternoon, the project was finished, complete with an adjustable framework for holding pots over the fire.

Today, 13 years later, that fire pit is as good as ever.

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