Monday, October 10, 2011


My earliest memories of the fall are a jumble of cockleburs, hot chocolate, BB guns, flannel, and hunting dogs. I think that is why the first cold mornings of fall trigger a ripple in my emotional magma. In my prime, I relished fall memories of cold rock in the vertical wilderness and cold splashes in raging rapids. They both remind me that my warmth is a treasure that has to be guarded. Now, when the leaves turn and a cold wind blows, I think of football, tight sweaters, and have an almost insuppressible urge to cuddle.

The cold reminds me that the new becomes old. In past autumns I've thought a lot about the new becoming the old. I’ve come to see that age means nothing without context. Climbing rock has eons of weathering and today’s river has been there many times. I am starting to feel the autumn of age.

This past weekend, I was set to reexplore a quintessential fall day by visiting my parents in NC. They need to see my son. He needs to see them. There is a current of life that passes between.  Just like autumn itself, there is warmth in that energy between the old and the new.

On Sunday, my wife and I took some time. We got up before daylight and went for coffee and a ride in the country. We took our old dog, Trap. In Siler City, there is only one convenience store that has real half and half and soon we emerged with steaming coffee, a couple of donuts, a newspaper, and smiles. The Eastern horizon was a deep purple in subtle contrast to the black skies of the departing night.

We drove into the purple, out to the hills. As I drove, I remembered an old turnout for a logging road that provided perfect framing of the blazing disk that rose and illuminated our world. With the windows rolled down, even cuddled together, the warmth of the sun was a welcomed contrast to the autumn cold. Before we returned to family, we let Trap out to do her business and to chase a deer a little ways down the road. She was puffing as I put her in the back. My wife was beaming as sharing such went beyond words. We drove back to my mother’s home.

We hadn’t been back but a few minutes when Trap showed up at mother’s back door. I had let her roam a bit as I knew that her hunting instincts were just wetted by the deer. Now she was barking and about to wake everyone. I tried to shush her several times. Her bark broke into a soulful howl. I felt sick when I saw the gash. I felt sick not because of the blood, but because I was raising my voice in anger at injured family. I don’t know how she got cut. It wasn’t a blow or a malicious wound. There was no muscle damage or bruising. She may have just stuck her head in some kind of a hole and got hung on something very sharp. We’ll never know. It was a long gash. It was a gash that occurred within 5 minutes of returning home.

Her brown eyes drew me in. She was asking for help with the clear voice of desperation. I called for my wife and we began doing what we could. We wrapped the wound with a towel and held it tight. As we worked on her, I felt her relax. I took that as a vote of confidence and admired her calmness while we fumbled looking for an open animal emergency room.

The strip mall that held the animal hospital was quiet. In a twist, a veterinarian named Dr. Beagle sewed up my Brittany Spaniel. I thanked her for her work while I winced and paid the bill. I paid with pride as I knew that this autumn my family was good and that there was more autumn coming.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I've been known to ramble. It's an affliction. There are no simple subjects and there are no simple answers. I'm one of those people that if you ask a question and I decide to answer, it may take a while. I apologize for that, but it is what it is. 

So, I'm going to ramble.  I hope you enjoy.

A Candle Pot

Untill this year, I had never heard of one. Here's what I learned or think I know after building one and using some on a recent trip...

A candle pot is a candle. It's a large candle. It can be a small campfire.

Grapevine Camp, Colorado River, Grand Canyon

(click photo for full size)
It is homemade and has a unique wick. It has to be homemade as only a fool would make one to sell. These things are fire in a can. The wax is candle wax. The wick is cardboard. 

(click photo for full size)
Here is my ramble that I think will answer the questions you want to ask.

The pot is crucial. Here's the deal... the size of the fire is limited by the surface area of the pot. Accept for the moment that the wick will be able to supply wax to the entire surface of the pot; thus, given the burning characteristics of candle wax, a diameter of about 14" will give you a flame at about the limitation of control-ability. Read that again. Don't use a pot larger than 14" in diameter. (Besides, that would take a lot of wax.) A burning pot is easily extinguished by a deliberate action and a good lid. Read that again. The size of the flame can be regulated by covering portions of the surface with a rock.

Be careful, your pot can become the target of worship. You'll get attached to it, so take some time picking your pot. I used a cookie tin and that actually is almost perfect. The lid can get bent and it feels a little cheensy to receive your labor and worship. The depth of the pot is not that critical. Recently I got a 12" Reviere pot with a lid at a yard sale for a $1. I think I will use that for my next one. I'm going to take the bakelite handles off and attach some sort of wire loop or something that can accept a strap to secure the lid... I'm still thinking on that one... As the pot is a little deep, I'm thinking of filling it with 2 or 3" of sand or cement, before adding cardboard and wax. I may also make a couple of small ones for table candles...

A Couple of Practical Points
The pot only gets hot around the rim. The bottom may get warm, but not hot. Supplemental wax is key. (I'm going to talk about that in a moment. It's a subject I didn't understand before the trip.)

Now, the wick...

When you get your pot, whatever size and shape you choose, you'll need to fill it with cardboard. The orientation of the cardboard and the manner it is packed are the secrets. In sum, cut long strips of cardboard from any corregated box. (I tried to use plain brown cardboard without print or plastic coatings.) Cut the cardboard so the tunnels of the corregaion are vertical in the pot! Wind up your strips tight and pack them in the center of your pot as the space available gets smaller and smaller. The top of the strips need to form a near flat surface that is about a 1/4 to 1/2" below the top of your pot and or bottom of your lid. 

A word about candle wax. 

You want cheap wax and generally that's not available locally. I couldn't find any. There was local wax -- but 10lbs would have been expensive. I may order from the Internet in the future but for the one I made, I scarffed some old Ikea candles we had bought a long time ago for power outages. And that's the point, get your wax from everywhere. Thrift shop candles, friends saving old candle butts, yard sales, and Internet... Get all you can. On trips, don't forget to add your bacon grease.

Using the pot. 

When you burn a candle pot, the wax on the surface will melt and the tip of the cardboard strips will wick liquid wax up to burn. Getting one started the first time is a bit tricky as you'll need to expose a bit of cardboard to start the process. Once a little flicker starts, soon the whole surface of the pot will be on fire. As the candle burns, the wick will burn down to just above the wax surface. If you do not add any wax, the candle pot will burn down over time. As the ash from the cardboard has no where to go, a burned pot will begin to stifle itself unless you cut out some ash or add more wax. There's the beauty. Just add wax. On a trip instead of having a few people bring candle pots have one and have everyone else bring old wax or bulk wax to add to the group candle pot. Just pitch in chunks of wax on a burning candle. One candle could last forever. 

Now, we have this pot full of cardboard, let's fill it up. I did mine on my camp stove. On one one burner, I had a melting pot where I melted all my scraps I could find and those Ikea candles I mentioned. You don't have to boil it, just melt... patience... boiling wax is not a good idea! On another burner I put my pot. The burner was barely cracked -- just enough to keep it warm. AND I didn't light the burner until I did my first pour. That's right, the first pour. First of all, trying to pour a big pot of wax at one time is silly. Second, it won't work. All those vertical tunnels have to burp to fill up and you'll need to do at least two if not three pours to fill a candle pot as the warm wax contracts as it cools. So, do several, if not many, small pours. That will be safer and give you a better pot.

The first lighting of my candle pot.
(click photo for full size)
A couple of things. If you buy wax, it's not a cheap fire. If you let water get in a burnt candle, you'll have to use a ground cloth as it will spit wax as the water boils out. The smoke is pretty dark. I wouldn't want to use it inside. But, for a quick fire where a camp fire is not possible, it's great.  

Look, there's a lot of stupid about making and using a candle pot. Wax burns. 
Be careful!