Friday, 8 April 2016
Tending the fire - thoughts on 'necessity'
Yes, we live differently here.
We say we live in the country, in fact we live in a village. But with barely 800 souls, nearly all of whom come from pioneer stock, and the fact that our village is surrounded by farms, a great big river and then nothing - and I mean nothing - but wilderness for thousands of miles extending north and west, yes, this is the country. There are other villages in the immediate area, placed a half-day's horse and buggy ride apart along the rivers, big or small, or nestled by lakes. One is even a real 'town' of a couple of thousand. Some of the others are shrinking hamlets of a dozen or so houses; the young leave, you see.
It's called the Pontiac and it's our chosen home. Why here? In fact this place is backward, the land that time forgot. There are bona fide hillbillies with crazy eyes who only come to town a couple of times a year. There's little medical care and what there is is sub-standard. The grocery stores are pathetic - except for the meat, which is excellent. No chance of a pizza delivered or anything resembling 'fusion cuisine', although nearly every little town has a mom & pop diner where you can get bacon & eggs with heaps of hash browns on the side, a farmer or logger's breakfast.
Sky, perhaps, a sky that can be read for the forecast more accurately than any app. And the big Ottawa river, silvery, or steely grey or the most brilliant of blues, a geographical feature which becomes, as you get to know it, more like a living thing, a creature.
When I first visited this place, the Pontiac, it was as though the embers that had but glowed a deep red in my heart since I was a kid dragged away from my feral life on the wide open prairies were given a fresh log of birch. My being exploded into flames. Flames with dancing blue feet. Flames with outstretched arms of yellow reaching up and tossing sparks high into the air to meet the stars of the milky way that curved over the night sky. I was home and I knew it.
Necessity brought me here, brought us here. He (the husband) has his own reasons, I can only speak to you of mine.
I may have been alive before, and happy, yes I was happy no matter the challenges but now I live. Then I did as we all do, the bare minimum. I looked for the easy, the quick, the method or the product that would move me on efficiently to the next thing and the next. I wasn't even in the thick of that rat race but I lived enough of it to see the difference. I'm not racing anybody now.
I am immersed in the doing of this thing, and then that. I give each thing my whole self. I cook because I must - I have no choice, it is a necessity - and it's a blessing to do so. All the little movements of choppings and stirrings and running out to the garden to snip some flavour that grew out of the ground or reaching for a jar of same that I have dried simply by hanging it from a well placed nail and a bit of string, all these are necessity's actions. And my body loves these movements. It relays its happiness to my heart which answers with its own deep joy. "Yes", it agrees, "this is good".
I complain about feeding the fire. Logs have weight and my back aches at the end of a day. But to know how to tend a fire is a lovely thing. It's a simple thing but not easy, it can only be learned by the doing. To ask "do I want a quick rush of heat from some birch or is it time to go with oak and damp it down for a long slow heat?" is a question that humans have asked forever. It is an important question, it is a necessity to know how to keep the house warm. There is freedom here. There is no long line of rich men with no faces, no oil ripped cruelly from the planet, simply well chosen trees, cut and delivered by the smiling strong old man who grew them just for this. They grow back. Out of the ground. By themselves.
Why here? To live alongside other human beings who live by necessity. Who understand that joy is intricately woven into work, not something that comes as a reward after the work is done. Who understand just how much grows out of the ground if we but allow it or ask it to with our seeds; heat, food, flavour. And fragrance too - if you've ever smelled an aspen forest or a goldenrod meadow or the glorious mud of a river or the many different smells of snow, you know what I mean. Babies come with no effort here, like they're supposed to, because they must, conceived in love (or lust), welcomed as they seemingly just tumble into existence, into life, as easily as the fawns or the coyote pups or the barn kittens. Babies, too, are a necessity.
The young, as I've said, usually leave to find work - necessity - and they come home, too. For the Fair, for the weekend, to look after their parents; eventually they all seem to come home again to stay. The sky is in their blood, and the river too and the many smells of snow. Tending the fire in old age, work, cooking, baking, shovelling snow, growing things like grandchildren - our babies' babies - are necessities of the heart to some of us.
We'll never be considered locals; our "people", as they'd say up here, aren't from this place, so we will always be newcomers. That's fine. To my neighbours I'm not from here, to the city people I am, clearly, it's in my eyes that I've come in from the country. Most of all I am of this place. My body has been wholly rebuilt from the food that just grows out of the ground - the wild greens, the berries, the moose. The oxygen in my blood comes from this air. My heart's fire is fed by it. Necessity is a beautiful word, for to do what needs to be done conjures love, as if by some magic, into the doing.