I decide to light a fire not on the solstice, but the morning after, on the first day of lengthening sunlight.
The day before, I dig out the fire pit, raking off leaves and uncovering ash from previous fires. It feels
right to leave the pit to breathe, although whether that’s traditional or not, I really don’t know. I’m
mindful of the difference between being inspired by another culture and appropriating it, constructing this fire in recognition of my own ancestral roots. A mentor once said that all cultures across the planet began with people gathered around a fire seeking to understand their place in the universe. I have no one to gather with, but I have a fire.
I haul a bae of hay from the barn to lean against and a bucket of water in case I do something stupid and catch the trees on fire. The wind is welcoming as I pass the big pine, and birds continue their chatter in the underbrush as if I am not a few feet away. I feel part of nature’s community, warmed by knowing we live in the same space - birds, trees, insects, coyotes, elements - interacting with each other with or without conscious awareness. It’s nice to feel part of this menagerie, to belong here.
On fire day, dawn arrives with a temperature of 21 degrees and for a nano second, I think of staying in bed. It’s dark on the walk to the site. Although the sun is not up, the sky is lightening as I build a teepee of kindling over a pile of leaves followed with sticks of thinly cut cedar and small branches. The bed is made small as ceremonial fires must be allowed to burn themselves out and I don’t have a lot of time. I have been at fires where larger and larger logs were thrown on, thinking to myself that people must be planning on staying out a long time, only to feel body slammed as soil or water was dumped over flames dancing with life. I wonder if suffocating might be slightly better than drowning. I have also been at fires where my friend Ellis sat alone through the night, keeping vigil until the fire burned out. It was respect that kept him there.
I know I should say something as the match is set to the leaves, but I have no idea what. I hesitate. I’m not one for prayer or petition. To find the words, I consider why I’m compelled to light this fire. An owl hoots behind me, and off to the right the crows that live up at the school are squabbling. Why am I here? To welcome the return of the sun, of course, and to acknowledge the cycles of nature that govern us. I close my eyes and imagine Earth spinning through space, moving into and out of alignment with other planets, stars, constellations, parts of the galaxy. Alignments are relationships, opening doors that energy flows through until the alignment shifts. My heart grows larger with love.
Many say that love is the strongest spiritual force in the universe. Personally, I think it’s the only spiritual force in the universe; everything that looks like an opposing force is simply a lack of love. However, I have learned that before there can be love, there must be respect. So that is why I light this fire - to offer respect to the cycles this culture thinks it has risen above. I feel an opening, knowing I exist within these cycles, and they within me. Awareness creates alignment and allows flow. I set the match to the leaves and the fire catches, leaping up to transform the kindling into flame. The fire is small yet lively as shapes and forms shift in and out of focus. Shortly, the fire burns out, just as the sun sends a beacon through the trees. Welcome.
I learn later that I am not alone while enjoying the fire. My husband, who could not join me, watched from the window as the fire caught. He tells me that a red-tailed hawk immediately circled the plume of smoke, then landed in a nearby tree for the duration. A deep river of love opens for this planet and these creatures of which we are just one species, and the knowing that we are part of this, we belong, if only we can break the spell of forgetting.