I sawed. And Jim leaned down to peer for the ensuing whisps of smoke.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, March 15, 1947.

“I’m,” declared Jimmie Frise, “really worried!”

“Aw,” I explained, “it’s just progress. Human progress.”

“Look,” cried Jim. “If you want light, you push a button. If you want to have a fire to cook a meal, you turn a tap on the gas stove and it lights its self. You don’t even have to strike a match.”

“Well, I can’t see,” I submitted, “how that is making sissies out of us.”

“Or,” went on Jim, “you turn a knob on the electric range. And you get a fire you never even see. Yet it is hot enough to cook a roast of beef!”

“So what?” I demanded.

“I tell you,” hissed Jimmie, “we are paving the way for our own destruction. We are placing ourselves the mercy of gadgets. In a few more years, the natural, ancient wisdom by which we have survived all the ages will have disappeared from among us.”

“It’s in books,” I reassured him. “We can always read up on how to cook on a wood stove.”

“That’s my point!” cried Jim. “Suppose we lost the books too? What I mean is, suppose there was an earthquake or a tidal wave that swept away all our power plants, our gas works, our means of communication and supply, AND our books! How many of us would survive?”

“How many of us,” I retorted, “would WANT to survive?”

“In a very few years,” stated Jim firmly, “at the rate we’re now going, nobody is going to know how to do anything except push a button or turn a knob. I got thinking about this whole business last night, when I happened to say to my boy something about sifting ashes.”

“Oh, yeah!” I exclaimed delighted. “Sifting ashes! I remember.”

“Do you suppose,” enquired Jim darkly, “that there is an ash sifter left anywhere on earth today? In this age of oil burning furnaces and blowers and self feeders? When we were kids, sifting the ashes was part of every boy’s life. You carried the ashes from the furnace out to the back yard. Then you shovelled the ashes out of the ash cans into the sifter. And you sifted the ashes, to remove all the unburned coal. Then you hand-picked the good coal from among the clinkers.”

“That,” I agreed, “was economy.”

“Today,” pursued Jim, “you don’t even see your furnace from one year’s end to the other. You simply push a little needle over, on the thermostat on the living room wall, and the furnace goes on or off, as you wish.”

“A great and gratifying improvement,” I submitted.

“But how about our kids!” protested Jim angrily. “Suppose something happened, suppose a catastrophe occurred so we couldn’t get oil or electricity? And our children, knowing nothing save that needle on the thermostat – what would they do?”

“Well, despite recent human progress,” I reasoned, “I imagine most kids know how to make a bonfire.”

“And a fine job of heating and cooking they’d do with a bonfire,” snorted Jim. “No, the more I think of it, the more I am alarmed by our increasing helplessness and dependence on mechanical gadgets of all kinds. Why, half the people today don’t know how to light a match! How long would your lighter be of use if suddenly, a catastrophe struck us and threw us on our own resources without all modern aids?”

“Oh, I’m not one of those who trusts lighters,” I admitted happily. “I always carry a bunch of good old-fashioned kitchen matches. Never without them.”

And I drew from my pants pocket a fistful of the big old-fashioned matches mixed up with my keyring, pen knife and folding nail file.

“Well, you’re one in a million,” said Jim. “If the whole country were suddenly thrown into wreck and ruin by a tidal wave, for instance, those few matches of yours would make you one of the mightiest men in the country! If you kept them dry.”

“Oh, I’d keep them dry,” I assured, thinking a little uneasily of the possibilities Jim was picturing.

“Look at Britain, during the recent snow storms and coal shortage!” exclaimed Jim. “Think of the millions of people with no lights, no stoves, no radios– just suddenly faced with the problem of cooking their supper out in the garden over a bonfire. IF they could get any dry wood!”

“Aw, the British,” I calmed, “have been through a lot more than a blizzard and a coal shortage.”

“Have they!” snorted Jim. “War hits here and there. But blizzards and coal shortages strike all over at the same time. I tell you, that if those conditions had lasted much longer, thousands would have died of exposure and starvation…”

“Why, the German cities…” I cut in.

“The German cities that were blitzed,” declared Jim, “always had parts that weren’t blitzed. Or else neighboring towns and cities that weren’t blitzed. What I’m talking about is a situation that throws us ALL upon our own basic resources. About the only people who would survive would be the farmers. And even they’d have to go back to oil lamps – if they could get any oil.

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I smiled. “You can’t stop progress.”

“But IS it progress,” demanded Jim, “to place ourselves at the mercy of mechanical devices upon which our very lives depend?”

“The power often goes off,” I pointed out, “and we don’t suffer much inconvenience.”

“If the power went off for a week,” rejoined Jim, “your oil furnace would be pretty cold. There aren’t enough candles in Canada to last a week. Nor coal oil. Not a surgical instrument or an anaesthetic dispenser any hospital in the country would work. Not a bakery would produce a loaf. Not a quart of milk would be pasteurized. Not a battery for truck or car could be recharged. In one week, chaos complete would descend upon our noble civilization, and we’d all be headed for our cousins’ on the farm.”

“Aw, well,” I comforted, “no such calamity on a wide scale is likely to occur…”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Jim, “at no time in the world’s history has such a calamity been so definitely in sight. Don’t you read the newspapers? Do you think all these politicians are just TALKING about the atom bomb?”

“Hey!” I said very startled.

“The gadget,” explained Jim, “to end all gadgets.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “there are more people in the world in a better position to fend for themselves than ever. Think of all the millions who are interested in the out-of-doors, who go camping and touring in summer. Why, there are no end of people who PREFER to cook a steak on a charcoal camp grate out in their gardens… with all the gadgets right there in the kitchen ignored…”

“It’s time they began to practise camping out,” said Jim grimly. “It’s time everybody started practising living in their back yards. Everybody in the world.”

“Why, I bet you,” I asserted, “there are more tents and camping equipment in the attics of Canada than at any time in her history. Look at all those tourist camps with little shacks. Look at the wilderness, full of perfectly competent outdoor livers…”

“Curious isn’t it,” mused Jim, “that recreation should now be teaching us how to live primitively at the same time the politicians of the earth are starting to run at the mouth about the atom.”

“From now on,” I said reflectively drawing my fistful of matches out of my pocket again, “I think I’ll keep one of those little waterproof match boxes in my pocket. All the time. As a regular habit. You never know at what minute…”

“How long,” asked Jim derisively “would a LITTLE box of matches last you?

“Then,” I said, “I can make fire with a stick.”

“Can you indeed?” laughed Jim. “I’ve often heard of the business of making a fire with dry sticks. First you get two boy scouts and rub them together, or something like that. But as a matter of fact, in all my life, have never seen it done.”

“Why, Jim, every boy scout,” I scoffed, “knows how to make fire, with sticks. It’s in every camping book. It’s the simplest thing in the world.”

“Have you ever done it?” demanded Jim.

“No,” I admitted, “but it’s one of those things you have to have done in order to know how to do it.”

“You take two dry sticks…” said Jim.

“No, no,” I protested. “That’s the cave man style. The way the boy scouts do it is much better. You use a bow. You can, in extremity, make the bow out of a stick picked up in the bush, with your shoelace for a string.”

“Suppose,” queried Jim, “this calamity strikes when haven’t got your boots on? What then?”

“Okay,” I said, “from now on, I’m not only going to keep a waterproof match box all the time, but also a piece of good stout string. Be prepared: that’s me!”

“Well, go on,” said Jim. “What about the little bow?”

“It’s absurdly simple,” I informed him. “You know that friction makes heat. And that intense friction will cause fire? Okay. You get a piece of wood – a bit of board – for a base. In it you gouge a small hole with your penknife.”

“Don’t forget,” interrupted Jim, “always to carry a penknife.”

“I’ll get a small one to wear in my pyjama pocket,” I agreed. “Always prepared! Now, with the board for a base, you get a stick and make a short point on it. This stick you take one loop of the little bow-string around. See? Then, with still another small bit of wood to hold in your left hand, so the stick can twirl freely, you put the point of the stick in the little hole in the board. You hold the top of the stick-vertical-down snug with the small block in your left hand. And then you begin sawing back and forth with the bow.”

“Thus causing the pointed stick to revolve,” followed Jimmie, “at high speed in the little hole down on the board.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Now, after a short period of sawing, you notice a wisp of smoke starting to appear in the hole in the board. From the friction. It is then you start to place – loosely around the tip of that spinning pointed stick – little bits of dry punk, dry tinder of any kind. And in a moment, it smoulders. You blow gently; and lo, it bursts into a tiny blaze! Then you pop on your carefully prepared kindling.”

“It certainly sounds simple,” admired Jim. “But now suppose this calamity occurs on a wet day, after hours of pouring rain?”

“By golly,” I exclaimed, “I’m going to carry a little oil silk envelope in my pocket, all the time, with some good dry tinder…

“And in your pyjama pocket too?” asked Jim. “That’s going to be quite a pair of pyjamas. But tell me, you say you’ve never made fire this way. Did you ever SEE it done?”

“Well, uh…” I explained, “practically. I mean, everybody says it can be done.”

“Personally,” said Jim, standing up, “I’d like to see it done…”

So he went down cellar and got a bit of board for the base, a small block to hold in the left hand, a slender stick of dowel, good and dry, and a piece of stout string.

These he handed to me.

“Well… uh…” I explained.

So I took off my coat and vest. And I sharpened the dowel to a nice sharp short point. And I dug a little cone-shaped hole in the board, about the exact size for the pointed dowel to fit into neatly. And from a branch off the lilac bush that Jim got from the back door, I made a sturdy little bow.

“Tinder?” I commanded.

“These little slivers of newspaper will do,” said Jim, relaxing in the easy chair.

I set the board on the living room floor.

I took a half hitch of the bow-string around the pointed dowel. I squatted down and inserted the point into the hole of the board. I set my left hand, with the little block in my palm, on top of the dowel.

“There,” I said, “that’s all there is to it!” And skilfully, I started to saw.

I sawed. And I sawed. And Jim leaned down to peer for the ensuing wisps of smoke.

None came.

I straightened up, and took a long breath.

“Hard on the back,” I gusted.

Then I squatted again, and sawed again.

And I straightened. And I squatted.

And then I yelled “Ouch!”

For a stabbing pain like a red hot hat pin stabbed my left rear.

And as I leaped high, Jim vaulted from his easy chair. “Fire!” he barked, and hurled a vase of daffodils, water and all, onto my left rear.

For my old fashioned matches, ignited no doubt by my bending and straightening, and in contact with my keys or pen knife, had set fire to my pocket.

It made a hole about the size of my hand, and a blister about the size of a walnut. And Jim loaned me a pair of his pants, which I turned up well at the cuff.

“But you see,” I explained, as I started for home, “you see how it works?”

“Fire!” he barked, and hurled a vase of daffodils, water and all.