In honour of the festival of Imbolc, which honours Brigid, the Celtic goddess of fire and the hearth. (Last year’s Imbolc post here.) I like to think this is the kind of thing the goddess dreams of tonight as she shifts in her deep, cold sleep.
I’m not much of a firesmith. I’m a Virgo with Taurus rising, all earth through and through. I guess maybe all that earth just tamps down whatever fire there might be.
But I’m both fascinated and terrified by fire.
Terrified: Charred remains of the beautiful log house at Cola Creek so many years ago. A woodstove gone awry. To this day, I get nervous staying in a house with a woodstove. Or on the second floor of any house. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get out in time. And when I hear about burning barns and horses that didn’t make it… my heart just breaks and breaks and breaks.
And yet I’m also…
Fascinated: Why can’t I get a fire to start? Slow, painful learning, so many years ago, how to start a campfire, fireplace, wood stove. Wood stove is the hardest. You have to lay it all out while working around the burners, or awkwardly from the too-small firebox door, squishing the kindling in on top of too-springy balls of newspaper, praying that it catches the first time so you’re not trying to get new paper in under the kindling now, with a new risk, that the paper will catch before you’re ready and you’ve gotta watch your fingers, a whole new challenge.
Fascination: Watching Rebecca light the fire in the fire pit on the lawn by the lake, last summer. It was, well, fascinating. Incredible to watch. Amazing. Such precision!
She made this perfect little cage of tiny kindling, 4 x 4 x 4, then bigger kindling, all on a bed of paper, and a slight “cheat”—we’d broken down and gone into town to buy some of those fire starter thingies. Still, I’d used one the night before, with not much more success than I’d had the first night. Like I said, I’m not much of a firesmith. By the third night, I was ready to leave it to the master, and master she was.
Her fire was beautifully, perfectly crafted, a work of art. The little cage of kindling caught first try, with the first, and only, match. The little cage of kindling caught the flame from the little balls of newspaper, not too tight, not too loose, but just right for maintaining just enough flame for just long enough, sending up a little curl of smoke, a tiny bright spot just at the edge, then flaring suddenly, a fireworks burst of brightness, then subsiding just as quickly, thinking about going out.
But Rebecca—Rebecca is watching like a hawk. Rebecca holds the little fire like a baby bird in her hands. Rebecca will not let the flame go out. She knows exactly when to apply her breath to keep it alive, knows when it’s time to add another little piece of wood, then another, then finally a bigger piece, and another, like Russian dolls, and then finally we’re up to the first real log, not too soon or it won’t catch, carefully placed so it will.
Soon we have happily dancing flames, flickering far into the dark night, light lifting itself over the dark water of Lake Michigan, not roaring but steady, steady, steady. A steady, strong flame that cradles our songs and our stories on the last night of our retreat, four of us winding our voices together, voices following the smoke and the light over the water.
Photo credit: Copyright © 2018 Tunde Nemeth