2017-02-12 / Family

Gather ‘Round the Fire


Old Granny called to us from the back yard where she had built a small fire in the pit. “Come. Come. Come sit a wee while and I’ll tell you a tale.”

And so, we all tumbled out of the house and scrambled for seats around the little blaze. Dressed in winter coats and scarves and hats, we shivered at first in the crisp cold night. But none of the nine of us would miss a Granny tale for any gift you could name.

For a while she was quiet and so were we. She seemed to be listening, her head cocked to one side and her eyes looking inward. And then, she began.

“We sit at the midpoint between solstice and equinox — halfway between winter and spring. It’s cold and icy and the landscape lies frozen around us ...”

She paused, her silence asking us to see the pictures she painted with her words. We all leaned in closer, waiting.

“In ancient times the people gathered to celebrate this point in the wheel of the year. A small fire was lit and there would be singing for a while. And then all would drop into silence. And the old women — keepers of the flames — fed the little fire with wishes and wood and winter grasses.”

Granny bent and tossed dry kindling on the fire. All eyes looked on as the flames lifted in a crackling dance. And before the flames could settle back, she tossed in bundles of dried lavender and sage and laid chunks of wood on top. The fire grew, sending up fragrant smoke into the night air as stars twinkled over head and a lovely crescent moon sat above the tree line.

“And out of the silence, they would hear the drumbeats. And all would turn to see the flickering lights coming through the forest and across the fields. And they would spread their circle wider around the fire and welcome in the drummers and the torch bearers. And then the dancing would begin. And the joyful singing.

"'And what were they celebrating?’ you well might ask. And I would tell you that they were rejoicing at the approach of spring. The sun was growing stronger with each day. The earth, underneath the layers of cold, was readying to awaken.

“Suddenly, the drums would roll out a deafening rumble, ending with one loud thump. And again, silence would reign.  And it would remain until the last vibration from that final drumbeat died away. And then it would happen ...”

Again Granny paused and laid more wood upon the fire. And sparks flew up into the night. Again, we leaned in closer, drawn to the heat of the fire and the sizzle of anticipation in the air.

Granny’s voice was just above a whisper as she said, “Two tall figures — the ones they had been waiting for — appeared out of the darkness at the edge of the circle and the swarm of dancers surged forward and back like ocean waves, opening then closing around the two.

“They were 8-feet tall, the figures. One was white, his face covered in a frosted beard, his eyes an icy blue. His long robe, covered in snow flakes and crystals, sparkled in the fire light and the icicles hanging from his bony fingers were unfazed by the blazing fire. The other was green, his mossy beard dripped curls of ivy and his eyes were a chestnut brown. His clothing was all leafy vines and greenery and he smelled of freshly turned earth. His cupped hands were filled with seeds which he sprinkled about as he moved among them.

“Jack Frost and the Green Man had arrived for their annual light-hearted dance of mock battle. They playfully parried and jabbed for a while until Jack Frost, at last, ran away. And the air smelled of wood smoke and lavender and sage as the revelers danced home to their beds.”

When Granny had finished, I looked around and saw flickering fire light in nine pair of glistening eyes.  And out beyond our tiny circle, two tall figures — one white and one green— receded into the darkness.

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