The Power of Campfires: the Original Social Network

An Ode to Campfires

sugar lake campfire

When was the last time you  burnt a marshmallow ?  Laughed until your ribs hurt after someone fell off of their chair (backwards)? Listened to the loons calling behind crackling, burning logs? As Minnesotans, we love our time outside more than we love to be passive aggressive. Nothing is more indicative of that sweet summer weather starting than the first campfire of the season.

Campfires are the true, original social network. Anthropologist  Polly Wiessner found that the simple act of gathering around a campfire cultivates bonding and relationship building with the mere ability to gather and share stories. Wiessner spent half a year conducting research with the wild Bushmen of Botswana and discovered that when night fell and the fire roared, conversations transitioned from work and worry to socializing and singing. Wiessner wrote:

minnesota campfire

“Day talk centered on practicalities and sanctioning gossip; fire-lit activities centered on conversations that evoked the imagination, helped people remember and understand others in their external networks, healed rifts of the day, and conveyed information about cultural institutions that generate regularity of behavior and corresponding trust. Appetites for fire-lit settings for intimate conversations and for evening stories remain with us today.”

How great that something as simple as a campfire can bring us together? We spend so much of our lives these days running around like robotic chickens with our heads cut off. We rarely put our little handheld computer-phones down and before we know it, the day is gone and we are more stressed out than before. The importance of quality time together in nature does not go unnoticed up here, and we rely on those evening campfires to aid in cultivating offline interaction.

So what makes our campfires so special? Sure, you can make a campfire (almost) anywhere, but we challenge you to find a more enticing scenario than ours. The crystal clear waters of Sugar Lake have long been rumored to have healing properties (as told by the Ojibwe) and the wind that sweeps the lake circulates a pine and spruce aroma unlike anywhere else. As the night falls and stars light up the clear (pollution-free) sky, our lakeside campfires take shape with possibly the best ingredient of all: Casey, our resident banjo player.


Casey has been with us from the beginning. Families have been coming to Sugar Lake Lodge every year since our opening 25 years ago and often their first request is the exact time of Casey’s arrival. We could tell you every detail about him – from his humble lumberjack beginnings to his wry wit and fascination with riddles – but that is what the elusive Sugar Lake Campfire is for. We believe in the power of stories, and Casey is one of our most prized narratives.

So, as summer begins, we challenge you to take inventory of the daily conversations you’re partaking in and ask yourself, “Do I need some time around the campfire?”

Our guess is yes.