It seems like another life ago, when I had a whole other family. Living on a compound in the middle of a desert far from home. In between flights and operations, a little sleep here and there. We would talk and share and find some semblance of normalcy in our little corner of the world. Sitting around a simple fire, like so many of our fellow humans have done for a millennia.
It Was the Best of Times…
One of my favorite passages, and one that I had to recite verbatim in High School. Maybe that is why it stuck with me so much over the years. Regardless of why I remember it, its words are true no matter where or when it comes to mind:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
We were in a world so different and yet so similar to the one we had just left. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and streams, but with the threat of mortars and gunfire. Each day started with the same sun over the horizon, a new dawn. Grateful for another day, pensive to see what that day would bring. In a constant state of unknown and unrest, we found solace in the humanity and heart of each other.
We were all there together, we all had our own reasons for the choices we made. None the less, we were there and needed each other to get thru it all. These fellow odd ones, like myself choosing a life less ordinary, became my family. The closest of confidants, while still maintaining a strange distance few others understand. A tight knit group, yet almost strangers in the grander scheme of the world.
Family, Forged in Fire…
For five long and arduous years, these were my brothers and sisters. Some came and left, others were there up until the end when Camp Alvarado fell. I was there at the beginning, but left a decade before the end.
They are all with me still. Every one of my Desert Diablos fam, each bringing something to my life I needed and am forever grateful for. I can never fully thank them, some are gone from this world, others I have no idea how to get in touch with anymore. For those who see this by some chance – Thank you for gracing me with simply being YOU! You have blessed my life more than you know.
Of the many heartfelt moments and connecting conversations we had over the years, my favorites happened by the warmth and light of our regular bonfires on our little compound in the middle of nowhere. These almost weekly bonfires became something we looked forward to during our challenging weeks. The fire became our cleansing ritual, to let the week dissipate into the flames as we pretended to be in someone’s back yard, not Afghanistan.
Always Improving and Improvising
Being a team of overachievers and misfits, and likely pyromaniacs now that I look back on it, we found ways to make each fire session better than the last. The guys would work in the shop every spare hour some days creating these elaborate fire funnels – a contraption to put on the fire to direct the flame into a literal fire tornado. What started as a simple 4 sided “cone” eventually, after weeks and months of experimentation, became the Fire Dragon.
Among the flames, sipping on hot cocoa we bought online and had shipped to our APO. Savoring some cured meats and breads our local Afghan friends shared with us. We enjoyed a life less ordinary, grateful for the moment at hand. For those short moments we stole away from the turmoil and angst of the world surrounding us. Reminded ourselves we are all human, we are all loved, we are all on this journey together. We were not alone.
One of the going away party style fires we had, the guys brought out the most epic Dragon – the largest we had attempted. It did not disappoint. And I had my camera for once. Going thru the photos of my life over a decade ago, still fills my heart with joy. I smile knowing many of these genuine souls are out there living there best lives and we touch base every once in a while.
Ode to the Desert Diablos, Masters of the Fire
So in their honor, this bonfire worthy season, I tried to find out how to build one of these Fire Dragons, and could find NOTHING out there on the net. So, I guess I need to write a “DIY How To” next, jaja. But I did find some similar ideas to give you the basics here so you have somewhere to start, like we did, on your journey to building the best bonfire flame tornados! I’ll work on getting with some of my Master of the Fire friends and get the specs for a future post as well.
The design very vaguely draws from the rocket stove, which pulls the heat of the fire up into a tunnel. The heat moving thru the L shape into a smaller opening and out the top causes the air to heat up and twist on the way out. This creates a really cool flaming effect at the top of the tower at the beginning of the burn. The super hot flames burn off almost all the fuel so there is very little smoke for most of the event. The tower eventually starts to burn down to a normal bonfire and gives hours of warmth and entertainment for a chill evening.
This is basically the rocket stove innards – which is the inside of the Fire Dragon, but made with wood instead of stone. So for our fire this weekend we are making this out of wood, and then building the rest of the “cone” over it. Ideally, the design will cause that tornado action inside of the central tunnel and I will know I have the basic theory down. Then we will work on making our own Dragon.
Even today, years after I left that dusty room and austere mountainscape, those nights by the fire bring my heart warmth and joy. A part of each of us, shared around that flame, that gave each other strength and hope. All is never lost, sometimes it’s just waiting to be found. I hope you each have found your paths to happiness…..
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