Thursday, January 28, 2021

Soothing Flames

Fire is one of humanity's oldest tools, and one we've spent some time writing about it here. Building a campfire isn't difficult to do well, but a poorly laid fire won't burn as efficiently and will be harder to light and keep lit. Fire is important to a prepper for its many uses: fireplaces and wood stoves produce heat for some of our houses, candles and liquid-fueled lamps can provide light, and gas or oil stoves/ovens cook our food. 

One of the lesser-known uses of fire, and specifically flames, is the calming or soothing effect it has on people. We're hard-wired to associate sitting around an open fire with security, socialization, and relaxation. Our ancestors used fires to cook their food, deter predators, chase away insects, and light their dwellings. All of these things lead to a reduction of stress and a feeling of security. In times of crisis a fire might be needed to stay alive, but the side effects are worth the effort even if you have food, water, and shelter taken care of.

Several studies have confirmed the benefits of watching a fire. Researchers as far apart as Sweden, Japan, and Alabama have done scientific studies to measure the effects of real and virtual fireplaces, campfires, and candles on the human mind and body. Lowered stress, reduced blood pressure, and more relaxed brain functions are all proven effects of the simple act of watching a flame. People become most sociable around a fire; they're willing to sit closer to each other and conversations are easier to start. One of the interesting bits I found in the studies was that the audible crackle of a wood fire had much to do with the level of relaxation associated with a fire. Deep down in our subconscious, we can tell a fake fire from a real one.

Most modern houses and apartments aren't furnished with a usable fireplace, about the closest you're going to find is the fake log gas fireplaces that provide the ambiance without the mess. Virtual fireplaces are more common around the holidays, but you can find DVDs of hours of fireplace video if you look around. Setting up a flat-screen TV with a DVD player is a lot easier and cleaner than lighting a fireplace, and we all know how convenience is the goal for a lot of folks. Flickering “flame” light bulbs are another option; the LED versions are cheap and simulate a candle pretty well.

I do have to throw in the caveat that “fire is a useful servant but a terrible master”. Fire and flames MUST be kept under control to prevent tragedy. Never leave an open flame unsupervised, keep children and pets (and people with similar mindsets) away from fires of all sizes, and always have a way to extinguish a fire close to hand. The calming effect of fire can induce drowsiness, so make sure your fireplace has a spark screen and the candles are contained in a chimney or lantern before you drift off to sleep. Up until Edison developed a usable light bulb and started running wires to every building, people used flames to light and heat their houses, so for most of our history fire and flames were a normal part of our lives. Sadly, most people are untrained in how to live with open flames in modern society.

I've always felt more at ease when sitting around a campfire and even a simple candle or kerosene lamp with its flickering light is enough to calm my nerves a bit. Cheaper than drugs or alcohol and, as long as you use some common sense, a lot safer. The next time you're felling stressed out, try watching a flame for a while to see if it helps. Anything from a candle to a bonfire, whatever you can fit into your life at the time, it's the flame that may help sooth your mind. A lot of my articles are written with a candle or lamp burning in the room. I find it relaxing and it helps coalesce the random thoughts that bounce around inside my head.

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