Touch the Fire

I had done my research, tied my shoes, and braced myself for the sprint as I circled the bonfire. Dartmouth Night was in full swing as my fellow fifteens and I ran in circles on the Green, jogging with friends, chatting it up, slowly charring the left sides of our bodies. A combination of S&S and H-Po circled the blaze, blocking students from potentially “Touching the Fire”. The tradition was whispered of, or talked about hypothetically.

Touch the fire, you won’t regret it (unless you get caught).

Touch the fire, you won’t regret it (unless you get caught).

People screamed at me to touch the fire as I ran my laps, but it was more joking that I wouldn’t than actually urging me on. As I ran past the McNutt side of the fire, I saw a figure burst through the crowd, sprinting towards the flame, authorities close behind. All eyes were on him as he raced through the inner circle and continued for the other side. That was when I lost sight of him as my friend and I ducked below the yellow caution tape and made for the bonfire. I made it past the first set of guards, and luckily the wind blew the fire away from me as I slapped a burning wooden pillar. I was Prometheus, in all his glory.

By now three officers were running towards me, ready to tackle me. I sidestepped one as he ran by and slipped, then tried to run past a second officer as he attempted to tackle me. My shoulder collided with his chest and he fell to the ground. A third officer gave chase as I dove back into the crowd of 15’s. He pushed towards me, but I kept running, up behind Dartmouth Hall without looking back.

I stopped, caught my breath, and took inventory. My shirt was a little burned, but other than that I felt fine. I returned to my friends at the bonfire, we ran a few more laps, and then went back to the dorm to change and go out.

The bonfire before it's lit

The bonfire before it’s lit

That night I lived it up, even got a beer before a girl did at Psi U. It was an amazing feeling, and made Homecoming that much better, but all good things do come to an end.

After about a week, the glory faded. I went back to Freshman Fall, the realities of long lines and the bottom of the X. But every once in a while someone will bring up Homecoming or the bonfire, and my friend will allude to my courage on that cold night. You touched the fire? And you didn’t get caught? Amazing!

The fact of the matter is that the administration is trying to crush tradition at this school, and the fire is one of the last tenets of old Dartmouth. Wes Schaub, the head of GLOS, labeled the bonfire hazing. If he is going to be that uncompromising in his stance against tradition, there is no compromise to be had. Administrators unfamiliar with Dartmouth can alienate as many students as much as they care to; it’ll just breed an unhealthy relationship between those who run the school and those who attend it.

Those who touch the fire are either the boldest or dumbest in a class. It’s an act of rebellion so existential its practically Lohsian, a reminder that no matter what the administration attempts, Dear Old Dartmouth lives on in the flame that warms our hearts on Homecoming.

If you happen to know any ’18 who’s touched the fire, send them over to me. We’ll share a drink, as long as they’re over twenty-one. Wouldn’t want to break too many rules.

This set piece to the Review‘s Homecoming coverage was written by Michael T. Haughey, who laughs in the face of danger.