Earlier this week, we considered tinder and kindling, stepping up the scale of combustible campfire material categories. Today, we look at the largest-sized component: fuelwood.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary quite simply defines fuelwood as “wood grown or used for fuel.” This compound word is thought to have come into use in the 14th Century.

Whereas with kindling, you are looking for twigs no larger than a pencil, with fuel wood, there isn’t an actual limit to how large a piece might be, but there are certainly practical limits. A general rule of thumb that we use in our outings is that a good size for fuel wood is about the thickness of your wrist, or, perhaps, your forearm if you’re building a larger fire. If you have pieces larger than this, they should probably be split down to a smaller size before being used to feed the fire. You’ll want your initial pieces of fuel wood to be smaller.

Where the tinder is used to alight the kindling, the kindling is used to start fuel wood on fire. Once a campfire is established, additional pieces of fuelwood can be used to sustain it.



In our last outdoors post, we looked at tinder, one of a handful of components to successfully build a fire. Today, we consider kindling.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines kindling as “dry twigs, pieces of paper, etc., that burn easily and are used to start a fire.According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word came into use in the 1510s as a present participle from of “kindle,” which is said to have likely originated from Old Norse “kynda.”

From the definition is sounds like a synonym for tinder, but among those who practice the skill of fire building, it is considered one size up from tinder. Tinder is the first material to be ignited. The tinder then sets afire the kindling. Where examples of tinder might be dried grass or leaves, kindling is generally thought of as twigs – sticks no bigger around than pencil.

Going one step up the size scale of combustible materials, we find fuel wood, the subject of our next post on fire building.


This coming weekend, some members of the Family Trivium household will be going camping with a youth group, with the primary focus of the outing being to teach basic outdoor skills to the younger members of the organization. Among the skills being covered will be fire building. What’s a fall campout without a campfire?

There are a handful of components necessary to successfully build a fire. One, of them is tinder, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “dry material (such as wood or grass) that burns easily and can be used to start a fire.” Middle English in origin, it comes from Old English “tynder,” and first known to have been used in the 12th Century.

Mr. Family Trivium’s favorite tinder is dryer lint from loads of cotton. It isn’t something found in nature, but it’s very reliable, and makes a practical use of something which would otherwise be thrown away.

For starting charcoal, Mr. Family Trivium uses newspaper. He loosely stuffs wadded-up newspaper into the bottom of a charcoal chimney before loading the top with lump charcoal for grilling, or charcoal briquettes for dutch oven cooking.

If you’re testing out your wilderness survival skills, you’ll need to scrounge up whatever you can find, Dry grass or pine needles tend to work fairly well. We’d love to hear about your favorite tinder in the comments.

Road Trip

Recently, we had a couple of days where Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium took turns taking a day off from work to spend with the kids before the start of another school year. It seems that we’ve all been yearning for a road trip – due to various factors, we haven’t had a real one for a couple of years.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “road trip,” coined in 1953, as “a long trip in a car, truck, etc.”

Our most recent road trip was a week-long-plus journey to, through, and from Yellowstone National Park. So far, hands-down, it has been our best family vacation. If magic is real, it certainly exists in Yellowstone. Perhaps it was this wonderful experience that has us wanting to hop in the family car and head for the mountains.

Not only can a trip through a place like Yellowstone be soul stirring, it can also be quite a learning experience as the Family Trivium kids found while completing the Junior Ranger program. This trip changed us in ways that can’t be put into words. To know it, it must be experienced.

Since Yellowstone, we’ve certainly had other, shorter drives of a few hours to visit family and to accomplish tasks not possible to do at home, but none of these were particularly life-changing (no offense Aunt Jane). We’ve had our share of out-of-town weddings where our budget ruled out four plane tickets, so we packed up the family car and took an extra day or two to take in diversions while on the road. Watching good friends take the vows and celebrate,  these trips ended up being quite fun, but a vacation with firm appointments and formal clothes is no where near as relaxing as one spent taking in the beauty of nature at your own pace in a fleece, wool socks and hiking boots or, perhaps later the same day, shorts and sandals.

On our recent days off, we had no grand adventures, but we did get out to local parks and nature preserves to take in some beautiful weather, reconnect with nature, and learn a thing or two.

Please let us know about your favorite road trip in the comments.


We’ve been having some insomnia lately, and it’s weather related. We’ve now broken into a stable dry pattern, but the last week has been rainy, with much of the rain coming late night or early morning, in thunderstorms.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary succinctly defines a thunderstorm as “a storm with lightning and thunder.” It’s first known usage was in 1652, as a compounding of “thunder” and “storm.”

We have fairly good shades on our windows, so we can’t really attest to how much lightning was in the air, but a true as it is that where there is smoke, there is fire, we’d say that where there is thunder, there is lightning. Judging by the amount of thunder we heard, there was plenty of lightning. Over two nights, we received about 10% of our average annual precipitation, during what is usually a dry time of year in our area. It seems that each night, we also received about 10% of our average nightly sleep.

On the other hand, our area received no major damage – oddly enough, a less severe complex, which moved through earlier in the week, caused major power outages. In the latest storm, we only experienced a couple of relatively brief outages. Aside from this, and our insomnia, the biggest impact that these storms seemed to have was creating grumpy coworkers who were suffering from their own lack of sleep.

As we do quite a bit of camping and hiking, we were glad to have been home when this weather moved through. Typically, if this type of weather is anticipated, we will cancel outings, whether as a family or as part of a larger group. Lightning is something outdoors people should take seriously. We’d refer you to the National Weather Service’s tips for safety when these conditions occur. If your outings take you into the back country, be sure to follow the link to the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Lightning Safety Guidelines.

We hope that thunderstorms, won’t scare you away from spending time outdoors, but we do think you should be informed on how to cope with them if, and when, they do appear.


July is typically a pretty uninviting time to spend outdoors in our neck of the woods. Too much heat. Too much humidity. Too little breeze. We’re accustomed to days with heat index values in the 100s.

July of last year was an anomaly, with uncharacteristically low humidity and many sunny days topping out in the 70s. While  today is not forecast to be that nice, it is starting out in the low 60s and expected to top out in the low 80s with a light breeze – nice. To celebrate this reprieve from the heat, and indoors, we’re planning a picnic. Given our love of food and outdoors, we’re surprised that we didn’t cover this topic earlier.

Dictionary.com defines picnic as “an excursion or outing in which the participants carry food with them and share a meal in the open air.” The word was first used between 1740 and 1750, being attributed to German “Pic-nic” or French “Pique-nique.”

In the past, Mr. Family Trivium has been know to pick up the kids from school and spontaneously stop for a Little Caesar’s pizza before heading off to one of the many local parks or nature areas for an outdoor meal and a hike.

In a throw back to Mr. Family Trivium’s childhood days where lunches on vacation road trips were eaten out of a cooler at a rest area – not a place with golden arches, we’re planning cold cut sandwiches on Italian bread.

We’d love to hear about your favorite picnic meal in the comments.


Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium went their whole lives, until last summer, without having been bitten by chiggers. We’d heard about them, but had never experienced them. Last July, we traveled to a family wedding and were introduced to the experience. We thought “oh, they must be more prevalent in other parts of the country.” Then, over the weekend, Mr. Family Trivium developed the tell-tale itching and handful of tiny red bumps on his ankles.

According to eMedicineHealth.com, chiggers are a juvenile form of a type of mite and they can be found in all parts of the world, preferring moist areas. It is a myth that they burrow into the skin and stay there. When a chigger inserts its mouth parts into the skin, an enzyme kills the tissue, which hardens into a “feeding tube,” known as a sylostome. Undisturbed, chiggers can feed through these tubes for several days, but they do not actually burrow into the skin.

Mr. Family Trivium did a couple of unusual things over the weekend. He mowed the lawn wearing shorts – usually, he wears long pants, though he does plenty of other yard and outdoor housework wearing shorts. He also worked most of the day Saturday, wearing shorts, at a garage sale for one of the kid’s youth organizations – he didn’t even think to use bug repellent. Regardless of where he picked them up, Mr. Family Trivium learned that we do, indeed, have chiggers in our area. It has been a rainy year, so there are plenty of moist areas to support these pests.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to never have experienced chigger bites, the best way that we know how to describe them is like REALLY itchy mosquito bites that take much longer to heal. We’ve found the best remedy for the itch to be calamine lotion, applied with a cotton swab,  a little before dressing for work, after getting home from work, and a little before bedtime.

Have you ever been bitten by chiggers? If you have, what is your favorite remedy? Please let us know in the comments.


On a recent morning, we had a view of a striking brownish streak high across an otherwise clear blue sky. It was presumably smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

Smokey Bear defines wildfire as “the term applied to any unwanted, unplanned, damaging fire burning in forest, shrub or grass” and goes on to say that it “is one of the most powerful natural forces known to people.”

Mr. Family Trivium didn’t recall having seen such a prominent indicator of a distant wildfire since the Yellowstone fires of 1988. In our more recent family visit to the park, we learned quite a bit about wildfire. They can be unforgivingly destructive, but they are also a part of nature and can bring rejuvenation.

We witnessed sobering evidence of more recent wildfires, but we also saw that after 25 years, the lodgepole pine forest had significantly recovered from the 1988 fires. In a United States Forest Service article on the species, Michelle Anderson explains that the lodgepole pines in the Rocky Mountains have cones with a resin that melts at abut 120 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that is generally only reached in the species range when a fire is present. When the resin melts, seeds are released, allowing a new generation of trees to begin their life as the forest successes.

The thought of wildfire can be scary, but we don’t let it bother us, unless there is an actual active threat where we had planned to hike or camp. After a recent local wildfire, after the fire department had declared the threat had passed, we went for a little walk in the area and were amazed by how well some of the plants handled the event. We saw things that we hadn’t seen before – things hidden by tall grass and under story brush. Nature has a lot to offer in terms of learning and pure enjoyment, so we hope that you will take your next opportunity to get out into it.

Black Powder

It’s time to tie a few things together. Last month we talked about our summer camp experience sampling various shooting sports. Among them was black powder muzzleloading. Earlier this week, we looked at fireworks and gunpowder.

Acoording to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, black powder is a term first known to be used in 1861 and is defined as “an explosive mixture of potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur used especially in fireworks and as a propellant in antique firearms.” In our last post, we learned that gun powder was a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur. Yes, they are the same thing. In other words, these muzzleloaders use, essentially, the same gunpowder, which is a component of fiery pyrotechnic displays, to propel a round ball projectile downrange.

Aside from typically being used in muzzleloaders (look for a separate post on this topic), how is black powder different from what is used in modern ammunition, such as that used in the rifle that we talked about in an earlier post? According to Russ Chastain’s article Black Powder, over at About.com, it will go off in an immediate flash when exposed to flame or spark, whereas modern propellants, have more of a “slow” burn. When ignited, black powder produces a thick cloud of white smoke and sulfurous odor, while leaving a corrosive residue in the gun’s barrel. Often referred to as “smokeless powder,” modern propellants produce little to no smoke, less odor, and are non-corrosive.


This month, at summer camp, some members of the Family Trivium household had several chances to try various shooting sports. Though we have already talked about the atlatl, the first shooting sport that we had a chance to try was rifle marksmanship.

We turned to Dictionary.com, where rifle is defined as “a shoulder firearm with spiral grooves cut in the inner surface of the gun barrel to give the bullet a rotatory motion and thus a more precise trajectory.” First used between 1745 and 1755, it comes from Low German “rīfeln” or “to grove.” Indeed, the rifle offered more precise shooting over the 50-Caliber muzzle loader that we tried later in the week, but that is an entirely different story.

Most of the groups at camp were Boy Scout troops, jump starting work on merit badges. As a youth, Mr. Family Trivium was a Boy Scout and earned quite a few merit badges at camp, though it was a different camp. Among them was Rifle Shooting. Despite years without practice, and having aging eyes, Mr. Family Trivium can still achieve the shooting qualifications for this merit badge badge: put five shots inside an area that can be covered with a Quarter Dollar and do it five times.

Perhaps they just have better rifles these days. Perhaps not. According to veteran Scout leaders, Rifle Shooting is one of the merit badges which Boy Scouts are most likely to not complete by the end of a week of camp, and it is usually the shooting qualification which holds them back. Some take the class two or three times before completion and some never finish. It seems that in Boy Scouts, while failure may not be encouraged, success isn’t guaranteed.