This week as we said goodbye to August and the official end of our sabbatical, I realized that our happiest memories of the past year have all included the glowing embers of a fire. From the first days of our journey in New Hampshire learning about teaching with fire to the last days in Wisconsin watching my son and his friends send fire boats down the Sidie Hollow creek, fire was a recurring character in the story of our year.
We began our travels last May creating sparks that fell like snow from flints as we held class in the woods behind Antioch University in New Hampshire. We were learning to build small "fairy fires" and even smaller fires in Kelly Kettles for children in schools or neighborhoods where a larger fire can't be experienced. The class was called the "Importance of Teaching with Fire" and in a warm spring mist, we each gathered enough tinder to build a tiny "hearth" from twigs and branches. Inside the hearth, we assembled a small nest of bark to receive the falling embers. It was so simple and such an amazing gift to bring to our children. Once our little fires were blazing, we used the fire in the Kelly Kettle to heat water for peppermint tea.
Summer and fall were filled with smoky bonfires overlooking the fields and hills of my childhood landscape and in landscapes new to us like the Norskadalen wheat threshing bee where we filled our tummies with freshly cooked lefse with the heat of the wood fired stove still on it.
In November, families gathered at Sidie Hollow, with burning tea candles tucked inside Martinmas lanterns and walked to opposite sides of the small country lake to sing back and forth to one another like birds calling to each other late in the evening.
When we journeyed north to Grand Marais and the North House Folk School on the shore of Lake Superior, winter had covered the earth in a blanket of ice and snow. A local ice sculptor had braved his way onto the Lake Superior to carve a lion's head rising out of the water and we all felt a little enchanted as for weeks we had been referring to our trip as "North to Narnia". In blowing snow and a wind that burned our lips and fingers, we ducked inside an outfitter to thaw. There, my son found the same flint the teachers had used months earlier in New Hampshire and back out in our Narnia he scraped at it until tiny silver stars began to appear and mix with the blowing snow.
When spring arrived, the families in our Waldorf community gathered again at Sidie Hollow for a May celebration and released dozens of fire balloons over the lake. The children ran barefoot crisscrossing the meadow while the orange embers rose up over our heads and disappeared into the waning light of dusk. In the dark, my son and his friends linked arms and began singing heartily: "Rise up oh flame, by thy light glowing, bring to us beauty, vision and joy!" As we walked to our car in the dark, all flames were out and and a large toad sat waiting to be carried from the path of cars.
We spent our last day at Sidie Hollow making boats and sending them down the creek, the boys deciding that the finale should be a sending a ceremonial fire boat down.
Thoreau said that fire is the most tolerable companion. If we are lucky enough, it is our constant companion.