Small Wonders: Taking time to stoke the fire

When I was a boy, I was always the dirtiest kid on a camping trip. I was the one that searched through the forest for scraps of wood and pinecones to feed the campfire. I then spent the rest of the evening making sure the fire stayed lit.

I was also the one that the smoke gravitated to no matter where I sat. My friend Eric calls this "riding the dragon," and that's the person you want to sit farthest from.

Maybe this is why the family gave me a backyard fire pit for Father's Day. Or, maybe my wife was taking notes every time she noticed me coveting our neighbor's fire pit whenever they have us over for cocktails.

Take a little kindling, throw in some wadded-up newspaper, a few, long burning pieces of wood and set it ablaze. Poke it occasionally with a stick to stir up the hot coals, maybe squirt it with lighter fluid once in a while just for fun, and you've got a great source for making s'mores, lively exchanges and cozy canoodling.

Turn your back for too long, though, get complacent, and the fire dies. Or, worse yet, get one of those boring, chemical-laced, faux wood byproduct logs from the supermarket and pretend it's a real campfire.

There is a marriage between man and flame. And that union needs tending.

My wife and I recently celebrated our anniversary, and she gave me a great gift. Last week we got our passports stamped, visas processed and jumped on a shuttle to the Hollywood Bowl for date night. You wouldn't believe what suburbanites have to do before they're allowed to go "over the hill" for a little entertainment.

With 17,000 of our closest friends, we streamed into the bowl to see Sting accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. I haven't been to a large venue concert since Bush was in the White House. Bush Sr. Thankfully, my wife keeps me up to speed on what's current in the arts and culture these days. Whenever I tell her "I'm still jiggy with it," she just rolls her eyes and sighs deeply.

The civilized, strictly older than 35 crowd was equipped with Williams-Sonoma picnic baskets, sipping fine wines from plastic cups. They enjoyed their takeout paninis from Patina, bento boxes from Maison Akira and Raspberry Marzipan Tarts from Sweet Lady Jane. When Sting took the stage, rather than rushing to form a mosh pit at his feet, the audience applauded, energetically though politely, and stayed in their seats.

I usually don't like it when people mess with the classics, when they take something from our collective memory that is unchanging, true and delicious, and destroy it by reconstructing it. Gene Wilder will forever be the only Willy Wonka; Madonna had no business driving her Chevy to the levee; and we did not need a fourth Indiana Jones, let alone a third.

Having grown up as a fan of The Police and later the solo Sting, I was skeptical of having "Roxanne," "Every Breath You Take" and "Message in a Bottle" tampered with. But, as I am always trying to remind myself, looking at the world with a different perspective can sometimes yield a brilliant result. Hearing Sting's greatest hits with that orchestra was just that. Brilliant. It was as if these songs were created to be performed this way.

For two hours we rocked and rolled, clapped and cheered as the night grew cool and dark. People actually ceased texting, e-mailing and checking the Lakers score. Instead of lighters, their raised cell phone screens dotted the stands, illuminating the darkness like digital fireflies.

When the concert was over, we joined the rivers of people slowly waddling out of the stands inch by inch. We resembled teams of emperor penguins shuffling to their breeding grounds cradling an egg on our feet. But even these crowds couldn't dampen the night.

Unlike the concerts of my youth, there was only the faintest hint of cannabis in the air; sadly not enough for an accidental contact high. So I knew it was something else that made the night so special. Maybe it was the music, the trip down memory lane or the simple fact that the kids were sleeping safely at Grandma's house. Probably all of that.

But mostly it was taking time out with that someone special to stoke the campfire. As Sting so aptly points out, every little thing she does is magic.

PATRICK CANEDAY can't clap and sing at the same time. He may be reached on Facebook, at and

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World