A thick mist blanketed the valleys below the knoll where a remote residential outpost sits in the depths of some Texas County back country.

Shadows of trees atop the knoll loomed large in the light of a half-moon shining brightly in the late spring night sky, ringed by a double-layered halo.

As the flames danced and crackled inside the circle of large field rocks at the center of attention, six people sat in various styles of chairs strategically arranged on the upwind side.

A young male dachshund mix and a young female Welsh Corgi lay calmly on the grass nearby, dreaming of the day’s adventures.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

One of men in the group played a mandolin and sang with passion and precision, the sounds of his instrument and his baritone voice carrying to the far reaches of the surrounding landscape, filling the valleys and bouncing from ridge to ridge.

Other voices rang out sporadically, as members of the group sang along with familiar verses or refrains.

The playlist featured a wide range of songs, by past and present artists like Marty Robbins, The Band and Old Crow Medicine Show. It even ventured off into folk-crafted versions of rock and roll classics like Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” and the often covered “Me and Bobby McGhee.”

The musical array was continuously augmented by a proficient choir of crickets and multiple species of frogs adding natural accompaniment in a way only they could.

After an hour or so, heat filled the air in the area around the pit as hot coals glowed in the pit as if ready for a blacksmith’s tools.

Two horses and a donkey stood close by in the corral on the other side of a three-strand poly wire fence, not moving to the music, but rather remaining contentedly still as if making sure to take in every note to the utmost.

Two coyote packs chimed in with bursts of yelping cries that carried over and beyond the rural outpost’s knoll.

Memories spurred by decades-old music fueled conversation laced with laughter, amazement and nodding heads.

The temperature dropped and the warmth was even more welcome than before.

The hoofed spectators finally sauntered away to partake of the succulent greenery in the acreage of their eating grounds.

Time rolled on and eventually broke up the gathering.

All involved retired with satisfied hearts and minds.

When the conditions in the Ozarks are right, it’s hard to beat a night by the fire pit.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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I’m glad rain has fallen in south-central Missouri this week, because things were obviously getting more than just a little dry.

Following the early-August “water event” (when a month of Sundays-worth of rain fell in a week and many area driveways and all kinds of other debris were sent flowing downstream in violently raging temporary torrents), it was like a giant faucet seemed to just shut off. First there was too much rain, then for more than a month there had hardly been enough measurable precipitation to fill a dog dish, let alone keep a small spring flowing strong. Nevertheless, I was pretty excited toward the end of last week when the forecast called for clear weather with highs in the 70s and cool nights. I look forward to those cool nights this time of year, and the chance to sit outside by a fire.

I wasn’t disappointed – Friday night was perfect. The work week ended with clear, calm conditions, and after the sun dipped below the forested ridge to the west of our property, me, my wife and a friend gathered around the field-rock ringed fire pit adjacent to the corral and prepared to just hang out.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

I put a match to the pile of dry leaves, twigs and logs that a few days earlier had been strategically piled in the pit in anticipation of the cool-down, and in no time the atmosphere in the area took on those enchanting characteristics that are so enjoyable: The crackle of the flames, the warmth of the fire, and best of all, the smell of the smoke.

As advertised, the temperature hadn’t reached 80 during the day, and as is the case on many a clear late-summer or early fall evening when the humidity is low, it dropped in a hurry when darkness set in. After a relatively short time I checked the thermometer mounted to the well house and it read a chilly 47 degrees.

That’s about what I expected to see, because the forecast was for “some areas to see temperatures in the low 50s,” and it seems to always go six degrees or so lower way out in the Jillikins where our remote Texas County outpost is located. That’s nice because we can always count on a few extra open window days and nights.

Last Friday’s fireside sit was made even better by the fact that a friend brought his mandolin and played several tunes. Turned out the young man is quite good; as cicadas, crickets and tree frogs provided natural backup vocals and instrumentation, he laid down several wonderful versions of classics by a variety of artists, including Jim Croce, The Band, Marty Robbins, and others. Accompanied by the rhythmic progression of chords that only a mandolin can produce, this talented troubadour’s low, commanding voice engagingly rang out over the hills and valleys surrounding the knoll on which our outpost is perched. It was obvious the Corgis liked it and I just knew the local wildlife was paying attention, too.

My wife just loved it, and we even applauded at the end of each song.

Now how are you going to beat that? A warm fire on a chilly September night deep in the Ozarks back country, good company and a guy who can more than carry a tune and has a way with the mandolin. It matched my idea of ideal outdoor nighttime relaxation – it doesn’t get much better than that.

Not that we’re making it a nightly habit, but the weather continued to cooperate through the weekend and we repeated the scene on Sunday. This time our musical neighbor played a new set and added a few twists, including some dang good whistling that augmented the beginning, middle and end of a handful of selections. And this time we were joined by a daughter visiting from Springfield, who also loved it.

The good news for me and my fellow fire pit fans (and I know there are plenty of you out there) is that in the near future there’s likely to be plenty of nights presenting the right conditions – maybe even as soon as this weekend. And the pleasure can be found in our own backyards – literally.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.