An Outdoor View: Eating out

The other day, my wife and I were making our one-acre slice of Alaska more “fire safe” by cutting down spruce trees that were too near our house, dragging them to our back yard and burning them. After a day of that, neither of us felt like cooking, so we decided to eat out.


The phrase “eating out” can mean many things. In our case, we had a fire burning that we couldn’t leave, so we decided to put it to good use and have a backyard wienie roast.

Scoff, if you will, but it was fun. We kicked off our “night out” with a fireside happy hour. I brought out a couple of old lawn chairs and a small table and Sue brought coffee, enhanced with apricot brandy. The temperature was barely above freezing, so we were bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets with holes in them, burned by sparks from past fires.

We sat back and relaxed, just beyond the dreaded shoe-melting distance. The fire’s heat felt good. Even though none of it reached our backs, it warmed our fronts and our memories. I remembered my little brother picking up a rock that was next to a bonfire and blistering both hands, ending what had been a fun picnic on a Puget Sound beach. I reflected on my Cub Scout days, and trying to start fires while camping in the rain, back when the only camp gear available came from “war surplus” stores that cropped up in the late 1940s.

I recalled the time that I built a fire near an old, cedar-sided building my dad used as a workshop. The fire soon spread to the shop. The town firetruck came, siren and all, but the excitement fizzled out when one of the firemen calmly quenched the fire with a garden hose. Of course, things got exciting again that night, when my dad came home from work and was told that I’d almost burned down his shop.

Sue recollected camping trips with her dad in Idaho, and the time in northern California when her uncle had a lit cigarette in his mouth while trying to hook up a propane stove at his cabin, and how odd he looked without eyebrows after the gas ignited.

After an hour or so of reminiscing, the fire had died down, allowing us to get close enough to reach it with our six-foot wienie roasting sticks. Sue brought out brats, buns, potato chips and condiments, and the fun began.

Stabbing a hunk of meat onto the end a stick and roasting it over a fire is about as basic an activity as a human can accomplish. It’s one of the things that makes us different from all other animals. I’d forgotten how much pleasure that cooking over an open fire can bring, and how life can be enjoyed without TV, phones and other modern “conveniences.”

As the evening progressed, and as the air temperature behind us reached and passed the freezing point, we decided that we’d had enough fun. Heading for the house, I turned to Sue and said, “Don’t say I never take you out.”

I highly recommend our slant on “eating out,” even if you do it only once every 40 years or so. If nothing else, it’ll give you a new appreciation for the comfort and security of a nice, warm house.

No doubt, we could’ve found a more glamorous place to eat out than behind our house. But on a starlit night in Alaska, when you’re hypnotized by a fire’s glowing embers, the fact that you’re eating on the leach field of your septic system just doesn’t seem important.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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