Shortly after sundown on the vernal equinox, a group of people gathered to light a bonfire and exorcise winter from their rural neighborhood in central North Carolina. Dancing, chanting “Winter, go away!” as the flames sent sparks rising to a starlit canopy, they believed they were bringing on a new, warmer season.
Bob and I were part of this group, a handful of long-time friends and neighbors, two eager youngsters and one sweet infant, hanging in a sling off his father’s torso like a mast head.
We had a time getting the fire to flare and were beginning to despair that Winter had won. Jason sacrificed a stack of old waxed produce boxes. Rachel and Linus came back and forth with buckets of dried wire grass. The rest of us worked branches out from the edges of the pile to feed the meager flame.
And then Liz remembered the location of some dry and seasoned wood. Several people went and fetched some robust logs and lay them together in a pyramid over the embers and we fed that.
By the time all light had left the horizon we had a roaring flame going. A white man’s fire which made us all step back a few paces in the face of its heat. A fire to end winter once and for all, showering Cassiopia in orange glitter.
Earlier that day, Liz and I had gone for a walk in the woods and ended up bushwhacking along Stinking Creek to an open area where two very smooth boulders nested amid the icy water of the creek. It was a magical place which captivated our senses. The dappled light, burbling creek, smooth shapes and greening grass all seemed something from the pages of a children’s book.
Liz wore flip flops, her way of nodding goodbye to winter and I soon had my jacket tied around my waist. We felt like explorers, stepping down onto those rocks, feeling them with our hands. Yes, they felt cold, but we imagined them warmed by Summer sun and covered in a spread of picnic lunch. We stepped across the creek and found a wide trail peppered with hoof prints – horse prints, that is. And a plastic robot half buried in the dead grass. We were as delighted by our discoveries as children, happily babbling about our adventure to Jason and Haruka upon our return.
Much later, after the bonfire, I went home and slept soundly. I felt a lightness in my heart, as if I really had helped escort out a cold, drab season in favor of one sunny and green. The next day was promisingly warm and bright and we encountered people wearing shorts, all ignoring forecasts for one more arctic blast next week.
Time will tell if our efforts had the desired effect but whether it snows again or not, the exercise was pleasingly cathartic. We people of the bend had burned winter in effigy, a team of exorcists enacting an age old ritual involving fire, song and dance.