Jane Kinney, Campfire Queen

By Sarah White

This essay was written in response to a Guided Autobiography prompt, “What are you prepared to give up for a friend?”

Camping with my friend Jane at Wildcat Mountain, circa Spring 2000, with my dog Fred

Given the number of times I headed out camping with Jane into a forecast of rain, the immediate answer to “What are you prepared to give up for a friend?” would obviously be “comfort.” You could add “safety” to that, given the frightening windstorms we endured on more than one occasion.

Who leaves home to spend an hour or two getting drenched while holding the poles and tethers of the dining fly in place, then sleep in a tent with a river running through it? Me, that’s who.

Because Jane could make camping in the rain fun.

It was the fire she built in a sudden downpour that proved it. Fairly early in our camping career, we pulled into Wildcat Mountain State Park on a Friday evening and got our campsite set up, a ritual we both enjoyed mightily. This was before the rain fly, so our camp consisted of a bedroom wing featuring two dome tents, a “kitchen” at one end of the picnic table, and a “living room” of pop-up chairs around a fire ring. This particular campsite featured a mature maple tree, spreading its shade across us.  It was located at the high end of the campsite loop. (Looking at the map, I’d say it’s Campsite #1.)

We often brought ready-made food for Friday night’s meal; save the more complicated cooking for the leisurely Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure what we ate that evening at Wildcat Mountain. What I remember is that as we finished, we heard the sizzle of rain just starting to patter down on the maple’s leaves.

Jane got busy. She strategically grabbed and sorted specific pieces from our firewood stacked nearby while I spread tarps over the picnic table and woodpile. I wasn’t watching just what she did; I was busy making sure the tents and car were secured against the coming wet.

The sky darkened quickly, too early for a summer sunset. Heavy weather was coming. Just as the sky burst open, Jane got the first licks of a fire rising from her little pile of kindling. That’s when I noticed the miracle she had created.

She had found among the wood bundles purchased from the camp store some broad but thin planks about the size you would grill a salmon on. (These were probably included for splitting into kindling.) These she held aside while she placed some twists of newspaper, surrounded by twigs and sticks. It resembled an untidy little bird’s nest. Then she placed the thin wood slabs around the nest in an A-frame configuration. It only took one kitchen match to get the nest to light.

Now water bucketed from the sky like we were a dumpster fire and God was a fireman. Jane and I ran for our rain ponchos and umbrellas. Then we settled into our folding chairs around a very happy little blaze, content under its wooden roof. At times it grew big enough to catch a plank of the A-frame alight—then Jane would use a poker-stick to nudge it down into the flames and replace it with another sheltering plank.

We poured tumbler after tumbler of red wine, retold each other the stories of other camp-outs and other storms, laughing incredulously from time to time.

“We are hearty buggers!” Jane yelled to the sky.

“Hearty buggers!” I yelled too.

We slept well that night, to the accompaniment of the pitter-patter of rain dripping off the maple. A sky full of stars peeked out just beyond its branches. The storm had passed, and we had enjoyed it all.

What would I give up for my friend Jane? A lot, because what she enjoyed, I enjoyed too. Even if we had to be hearty buggers to find it.

Jane Kinney, Trempealeau State Park, early 2000s

© 2022 Sarah White

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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