I didn’t grow up with fire. There were no forest fires where I lived. There was no ritual to greet fire as an ancestor, the way it breathes with generous lungs, the way it warms our bones with a primordial spark. I don’t think we even used the fireplace in our home.
I had no story for fire. I did not know that it could be honored, prayed to, interacted with. Even now I am a young one with cloudy eyes that barely open, just beginning to learn what the native peoples throughout the West Coast have known since the beginning: there is medicine in fire, the way it purifies to make room for new life.
I am a toddler just learning how to speak the language of the natural world. There are no long vowels or hard c’s here. My mouth moves awkwardly. Can I listen to its sounds without always trying to translate it into human words? Can I let it be its own tongue? Perhaps I am scared of its language and the way it may pummel me in my fragile irrelevance.
The land wants reciprocity and communication. It tells us when it is overgrown and ready to have fire clear the scraggly brush for fresh growth. Modern science and research are just barely catching up with the indigenous wisdom of how light, frequent burning of the forest understory maintains tree health. Fire clears and maintains prairie landscapes as habitat for elk and deer. It promotes better spring flow and drought tolerance. Even the smoke from these light burns has a role to play, reflecting sunlight and cooling the river water to benefit the salmon. Everything touches the life of everything else.
What would happen if we periodically let fire move through our lives, clearing everything that is overgrown in us? At times we may need to purposely burn down what chokes at our sun, blocks out our joy. Too many seasons can pass by unnoticed, our lives turning heavy and listless. But in order to participate in the great cosmic liturgy, we must not be afraid of the flint and the spark. We must stop trivializing our existence. There are so many ways that we give too little of ourselves, too little to our dream time, too little to our life force, too little to our loves, too little to our wilds.
Fire reminds us that the aliveness of all life wants to merge with our own aliveness. We must listen to its wisdom and let its glowing sibilance pass through our vocal cords. We keep building ourselves up in such castles of accumulation, busyness, and stuff. When it all is piled so high on top of us, it can be impossible to have clear sight. It can be so difficult to remember that we are hungry. Thirsty for the sacred. Longing to connect with the source of everything.
There is a fire running through my life now. I accept that there is a certain amount of risk involved.
Still, it tells me to not miss my chance. I must leave the summer house of my comforts and burn with the alchemical change-fire of all things. In some shape shifting way this fire knows how to move what is heavy and lift it up, while also sinking a nutritive ash deeper and deeper into the earth of me. They are not growing yet, but I have to believe that from these regenerative ashes, mysterious sprouts will grow.
For now I am resting here in the void, the pause of death before rebirth. There is an eerie inner stillness that holds both an emptiness and a fullness. My nails are bitten down to tender, sorry nubs, there is cuticle dust on my desk and I try to weave my worry like a flimsy netting around me.
Despite this fear, I am compelled to leap forward into the flames, towards the flashing aliveness, towards the terrifying jubilation, towards the howl of the unknown.
Photo: Chinh Le Duc