Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field. I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility. The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.
A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire. The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay. I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand. The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.
A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful. My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.
A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard. Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows. I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.
I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.
Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.
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