Read Around the Camp Fire of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on

Did you ever camp in the woods on a moonlight night and listen to nature’s voices? Have you seen the light flicker through the trees, and glisten on the little brook, its ripples breaking into molten silver as it glides away between banks o’erhung with fern and trailing grasses?

Did you ever sit by the camp fire after a day’s climb over rocks and treacherous trails, or after whipping the stream up and down for the speckled beauties, and watch the flames climb higher and higher, the sparks flying upward as you throw on the dry pine branches, and listen to the trees overhead, swayed by the gentle breeze, croon their drowsy lullaby? Thus were Hal and I camped one night in June, at Ben Lomond, in the Santa Cruz mountains, and I shall never forget the glory of that moonlight night.

There is a delightful, comforting feeling about it, and somehow it always reminds me of a theater, one of God’s own handiwork, whose dome is the blue vault of heaven, studded with its millions of stars. The silver moon just peeping over the mountain, throwing into grand relief its rugged seam-scarred sides, the calcium light; the pine trees with waving plumes, rising file on file like shrouded specters, form the stage setting; the mountain brook, on whose bosom the moon leaves a streak of molten silver, the footlights; while all the myriad voices of the night, harmoniously blended, are the orchestra. Even the birds in their nests, awakened by the firelight, join their sleepy chirpings to the chorus.

It has something primeval about it, and one almost expects to see Robin Hood or Friar Tuck step out into the firelight. The camp fire carries one back to the days when the red men roamed the woods, sat round their camp fires, listened to the talking leaves, and boasted of their prowess.

What sweet memories linger round the camp fire, where the song of the cricket brings to us recollections of boyhood’s days on the farm, when we listened to the little minstrel, joined to the voice of the katydids, as their elfin music came floating up from field and meadow in a pulsating treble chorus. Dear little black musician of my childhood! Your note still lingers in my memory and brings before me the faces of those long since departed, who sat around the fireplace and listened to your cheery song. There was an unwritten law among us boys never to kill a cricket, and we kept it as sacredly as was kept the law of the Mèdes and Persians.

There is another side to the camp fire: the genial comradery of its cheery blaze, after the supper is over and the pipes lit, which invites stories of the day’s catch. The speckled beauties are exhibited, lying side by side on the damp moss at the bottom of the basket. The tale is told of repeated casts, under the overhanging boughs, in the shadow of the big rock, where the water swirls and rushes: how the brown hackle went skittering over the pool, or dropped as lightly as thistledown on the edge of the riffle, the sudden rise to the fly, the rush for deep water, of the strain on the rod when it throbbed like a thing of life, sending a delicious tingle to the finger tips, the successful battle, and the game brought to the net at last.

The delicious odor of the coffee bubbling in the pot, the speckled beauties, still side by side, sizzling in the pan, all combine to tempt the appetite of an epicure.

The camp fire has strange and varied companions. Men from all walks of life are lured by its cheery blaze. Here sits the noted divine in search of recreation, and, incidentally, material for future sermonic use; a prominent physician, glad to escape for a season the complaining ills, real or imaginary, of his many patients; a judge, whose benign expression, as he straightens the leaders in his flybook, or carefully wipes the moisture from his split bamboo rod, suggests nothing of justice dispensed with an iron hand; and Emanuel, our Mexican guide, who contentedly inhales the smoke from his cigarette as he lounges in the warmth of the blazing camp fire, dreaming of his senorita.

Who can withstand the call of the camp fire, when the sap begins to run in the trees, and the buds swell with growing life? The meadow larks call from the pasture, and overhead the killdee pipes his plaintive call. One longs to lie in the sunshine and watch the clouds go trailing over the valley. The smell of the woods and the smoke of the camp fire are in the air, and that old restless longing steals over him. It is a malady that no prescription compounded by the hand of a physician can alleviate. Its only antidote is a liberal dose of Mother Nature’s remedy, “God’s Out-of-Doors.”

What changes the close contact of nature makes in her loving children! You would hardly know these men dressed in khaki suits and flannel shirts, smoking their evening pipes around the camp fire, as the same men who attend receptions and banquets in the city, dressed in conventional evening clothes; and I dare say they enjoy the camp fire, with its homely fare and cheery blaze, far more than electric-lighted parlors and costly catering.

But the camp fire wanes. A stick burns through and falls asunder, sending up a shower of sparks. Charred embers only remain. We spread our blankets with knapsack for pillow. With no sound of traffic to mar our slumbers, soothed by the wind in the branches, and the gentle song of the mountain brook for a lullaby, we are wooed to sleep on the broad bosom of Mother Earth.