A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Monday, October 18, 2010

12 Fire in the stove

Wednesday September 22, 2010: - Isle of Erraid

All week I’ve been thinking about learning to light the wood burning stove. Just before lunch, I take the opportunity to ask a member of the community to show me how to light the wood stove in our sitting room.

The fire went out in the stove sometime in the middle of the night. The half burned wood and the layer of ash are soft and slightly warm to touch.

Pushing aside my fear of the fire, I ease the half burned log to one side of the stove and stack rolled and folded newsprint on the other. I wrap some lumps of wax in more newsprint and balance the kindling sticks across the top. It’s not so different lighting a fire in a stove than it is to light one on the ground, I muse. With the last match from the box, I light the paper and the fire catches.

It spits and hisses, hums and snaps and soon is burning merrily. I prod it with a poker to enliven it, and when it is burning merrily, lay another big log across it. It continues to make contented healthy fire noises, so I deem it safe to leave and go off to have lunch.

After lunch, I return to the fire, which is still singing. I prod it some more with the poker, which it appears to like. I make it roar as I feed it more wood. It blasts out heat and I hear its voice singing in the flu. I slip open the vent, and tongues of flame dart out teasingly. I snap shut the vent, and With some considerable satisfaction settle back contentedly to read, drink tea and knit and eat chocolate for the rest of the afternoon.

I’ve lit my first stove fire and it’s not gone out! I’ve not burned my hands or burnt the house down in the doing of it either. I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.

I’ve always been cautious about fire, coming late to an ease with it. Fire can so easily run away with itself. Within minutes it can destroy. I am also learning, as I tend the stove this afternoon that, more often it needs coaxing and persuading to burn.

I think about the capriciousness of fire as the afternoon moves on. Now I’ve conquered stove fires, what else is left that is hard about fire? A fire walk? Hmmm. Well that’s for another time, I think popping a piece of chocolate into my mouth.

11 Rising

Monday September 20, 2010 - isle of Erraid

We are still in Baking fire and today I am making bread for the community. I am so excited! The symbol of bread-making is sacred. It is a loving thing to do, to make and share bread with another.

To be successful, a warm cozy kitchen and a hot oven are needed, along with a loving heart. Well I’ve got all those today.

My kitchen companion hands me the hugest bowl of dough I’ve ever felt. I flour up the table and plunge my hands in.

I love to feel the dough in my hands. I pull it and kneed it and it unfolds itself pliantly. I bang it down, drive it into long flat pieces with the heal of my hands, and it submits, curling around my fist as I push and pull it.

My mind wanders, drifting gently from topic to topic. I focus on what my hands are doing and feel all thoughts drift away into only the essentialness of making my hands do what they are doing. I sigh happily, knowing that all I have to do is make the bread.

I make fifteen loafs, the last, I mould and shape, reluctant to release it to the oven.

I'm a bit attached to this one," I say to my cooking companion, who laughs in understanding. I'm relieved not to be thought batty, for what the outside world might see as a piece of anthropomorphic whimsy, (if you can be anthropomorphic about a piece of dough!). The thing is, the bread does feel alive, growing under my hands and then expanding some more before it is put in the oven to bake.

There is something deeply grounding about the ritual of bread making. I feel warm and satisfied and happy as the first loaves emerge from the oven, their sweet-savory smell filling the kitchen. Later, we eat the bread. It is soft and moist in my mouth. I sigh happily for the pleasure of it and because, all around my, others are showering me with appreciation for the beautiful bread they are eating.

10 Dragon-fire, Earth Spirit, Somerset

Thursday August 19, 2010:

I walk through the herb garden, brushing aromatic leaves with my legs as I pass. The air is filled with their gentle aromatic softness. I climb up to the ritual ground on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the land. On either side of the path, hawthorn bushes, their haws bright, gleam under the cloudy evening sky. The fire circle, ashen flaked is at my feet.

I’m here to light the community fire for our first ritual of this Feri retreat. I crouch down and place screwed up paper in the centre of the fire circle. I balance twigs, teepee like above them; gradually building up the structure till it is strong enough to take small branches, and then bigger ones.

I roll up a fat spill of paper and light it in one strike of a match and push it in amongst the little structure of twigs and branches. It emits a small satisfying hiss as it licks at the screwed up paper and small kindling laid at the base of the fire. For a moment, I hear nothing else until the first little crackle, jumps into the quiet evening air. Soon the fire is spitting vigorously. It is lit! My first proper camp fire!

The fire begins to whisper and sigh, growling and growing slowly louder as it begins to whoosh and snap.

Gout of smoke hits me squarely in the face. I cough and wipe my eyes, then bend towards the fire, inviting its smoky kiss.

I dredge up all my fire songs. And as I sing to the fire, it grows stronger and stronger. Soon it is ready for our working.

We gather around the fire, holding hands, connecting, as we cast the circle and invoke the gods. Our working this night is about beginnings and, whilst the rain begins gently at first and then more determinedly to fall, we dance a spiral, winding our community love into a cohesive connection with the land, each other and our work during this retreat.

Like a dragon, it snaps and crackles, puffing out its smoky breath. I lean to the flames, feasting with my body upon its warmth, breathing gratefully its Smokey perfume, turning in the smoke to cleanse and purify myself so that all parts of me are reached by the heat and smoke.

I sing

“And we can rise with the fire of freedom,
Truth is the fire that burns our chains
And we can stop the fire of destruction
Healing is the fire running through our veins.”
The rain falls steadily. The fire spits back defiantly. I sit by it; our working finished and waits as it begins to die down. I don’t want to leave it until it slumbers, but I am hungry and the rain is now soaking me to the skin.

9 Fire of anger

Thursday August 12, 2010:

Amongst the soft hills of mid-west Wales, we camp together in a community of communities. We have many differences but we are united by our different pagan paths and our queer identity. Amongst us are many with great and varying knowledge. There are others here who are new to a pagan path and eager to know and learn. We teach each other for to walk with someone else upon a path, new to them is not only an honour but a place for the experienced one to learn and grow.

Some have met the folk of the place and found them to be a proud noble warrior people. I have danced with the cooing doves and met the tall people quietly and in silence. This land offers a delight of diversity in all who live here (whether human or otherwise) upon the gentle land.

There comes a day of anger and hurt. Messages to campers, who are in tune with the folk, are angry and insistent. We need to pay more attention to the folk, we are told.

The rain has stopped but the knee-high grass is filled with its remembrance. As I wade through it, it drips cold rain into my boots. I stand inside the ritual field and wait. The messengers are speaking fervently and powerfully of their experiences. We are invited to dance rage and anger with the folk.

The waiting circle erupts into activity. They dance and jump, roar and stamp. I wait, smelling the crushed grass and the soft wet rain drenched earth. Breathing deeply, I stand firmly on the land and allow it to speak to me.

It calls me to sit down, to be still and to connect with my hands and my body. I sit down amongst the soft wet cushion of long grass and begin to loop my fingers through its fronds.

I stroke a piece of grass from root to tip, trace the shape of the seeds where they join, softly, gently exploring the fullness of the structure of the grass. The roaring and shouting and stamping recedes beyond the still small quiet, I am in the moment with this one piece of grass.

Minutes pass or is it hours, days, weeks or years. I am lost in loving this one piece of grass. With my other hand, I reach out to meet and marvel at its many similar pieces bunched and gathered like a sea of softness all around me.

Nearby I hear the grass creak as though a soft and light foot falls purposeful yon it. Something stands close. I bow my head, folding my hands across my hart. I don’t know who or what this is, it doesn’t matter. I only know that I am being honoured by a visit from something.

“Take a shower in the rain that falls from storm soaked leaves”, a voice in my head says. “Luxuriate in how a cool drop of rain falls onto your warm skin and melts, melding its coolness with the warmth of your body heat. Worship that as a sign of being rudely and joyfully alive.”

I nod to myself and to the presence, I let go my one piece of grass and stretch out my hands to caress the billowing sea of them. My heart settles peacefully amongst the still shouting others in the field. I am no longer unsettled by their anger, like a flame in the dark; it offers light and shade with which to shape space.

Slowly, I climb to my feet and leave the rioting field. Tomorrow, I will come at early morning to bath in the rain as it falls from the leaves onto the warm naked skin beneath my clothes. I will be still with the quiet of early morning and rejoice even in the rain.