Seasoned wood burned hot, the radiant heat discomforting to skin reddened by over-exposure to the season’s domineering sun. The six-log stack repelled six campers to a balanced distance beyond the zone of harsh impact, where dancing tongues of blue-tinged flame mesmerised the group into a carefree bliss capping their day.
The six retreated into Vermont on a long weekend of quiet solidarity, losing themselves in the normalness of each other, an oasis in a land of misjudgement and ignorance. They knew their truth.
The bonfire as finishing rite followed a sun-baked day spent tube surfing the White River. On the slow flowing river and in the camp clearing, a place of open space surrounded by passive giants of Vermont hardwood, the six women paired into three couples, their amorousness known only as friendship to their acquaintances back home. Here, each showed affection as mood dictated, a freedom denied them in their home communities. In 1972 America, revelation meant scorn, employment loss, and even ostracism from family. Two friends experienced this horrid trifecta not six months earlier.
Over the maturing fire, bread dough roasted on whittled sticks chosen for their proper girth and length, placed alongside a rigged handheld grill of locked-in hot dogs, sizzling as they readied for the slide into fresh-baked dough. No one wished the food prep hassle an elaborate meal necessitated. The wienie roast idea won unanimous approval.
Twenty-two year old Katie embraced the casual ease of the weekend, her first experience absent constraining fear of disapproval since she sussed the fact her attractions pulled in a direction different from other students. A horrific series of drastic actions ensued back then, cutting to sublimation encouraged by her congregational minister, before she accepted difference as valid, a normal part of her existence. This weekend marked a prevue of life possible in some distant but hoped for future, where this group and every other like they would exist in the open, safe and accepted as any other couple.
Sixty-two year old Katie looked through the photograph album displaying forty-year-old images yellowing on the borders, and she smiled.