Tuesday, April 3, 2012


HAS SPRING COME TO STAY IN BIRDLAND? When the peach trees exploded into blossom a few weeks back I worried. Could we really be done with winter so soon? Last year the peaches and pears bloomed early, yet we didn't get enough fruit for one pie. Someone said it was because it was rainy when they bloomed, and bees don't like the rain. This year they bloomed in the sun and opened their faces to clear, blue skies, but I didn't see the bees, and didn't want to chance it. I had read about pollinating by hand with a paintbrush, and did my best to paint bushels and bushels of peaches. The festive, full skirted, almost-white flowers have shed their petals, which fell like the big flakes of snow we hope will not come now, leaving the more modest coral sepals. If my pollination was successful, we should find swellings just beneath the calyx very soon. But a frost could still come and nip these tiny peaches before they grow. A paintbrush can't help that.

A few weeks back we celebrated the Equinox with one of Bill's famous bonfires at the Kalyx center. Ellis and some of his friends had been over to help build the bonfire—a mountain of brush cut from alongside the lane. Bill has been constructing bonfires for more than 30 years. By now he is expert. First he makes a small, three sided log cabin structure to create a box for the “combustible material” (He means the paper trash he's been collecting since the last bonfire. He's very scientific about it.) Then he and his helpers lay the cut brush over it into a tight haystack shape. Bill knows just how various types of brush will affect the fire—green wood might make spectacular sparks and add more color—some species will burn hotter or faster than others.


A potluck precedes every bonfire, and we had to wait for our bread to come out of the oven, so it was in full swing when we arrived. The potluck is in the barn, which houses not animals, but community and fellowship. The barn has a hardwood dance floor, which gets a lot of use. Light filters in through big windows set with stained glass accents and breeze blows in through large screens. Against one wall, a mammoth table is laden with sweet and savory pies, salads, chips, hummus, salsa, crock pots of soups and chillies, and breads of all kinds, from flat bread to round buns. We come in with our offering and greet a few friends we haven't seen since the last bonfire. Some of the young people get up to unfold another table and set chairs around it. By the time we finish saying hello to our friends, we have a place to sit. This will repeat a few more times, as we are not the last to arrive. I catch up with Margaret and Carolyn, a few of Bill's neighbors. Margaret tells me, no, she is not going to play her dulcimer for us tonight, which makes me a little sad—her voice is so beautiful and her songs are so haunting, but Carolyn has brought a huge crock of soup she made when her freezer broke. That made me happy—not the freezer that needed repair, but the soup, because I knew that it would contain everything she put up last summer from her garden. It was delicious, and after the potluck she gave me a container of it to take home.

 Eventually, we have all eaten our fill and someone notices that the sun has gone down. People start calling for the bonfire to start and we all go outside and make a big circle in the clearing. Bill lights the bonfire and it catches slowly, a narrow cone of fire dancing up through the center. The brush pile seems transparent as the bright flame dances inside it. Soon, though the whole structure catches, the flame now dancing furiously, the sparks exploding up into the dark sky. Bonfires have a rhythm. The circle expands as the heat pushes us out to the edges of the clearing. Everyone is standing, focused on the center. But as the fire dies down the circle gets smaller again. Sparks still rise, but more sedately. People begin to sit. A group of young people begins to sing, a cappella, old hymns and folk songs. Their voices rise with the sparks, weaving in harmony up to the stars. I listen gratefully; tears prick my eyes, from the smoke, you know. Bill, who has hosted perhaps 1000 bonfires over the years hasn't lost his wonder. He turns to me and smiles. “I really like bonfires,” he says.



Wonder in Beauty; Assemble
in Peace; Blessed Be.

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