December in Provence is when the farmers and vineyard workers burn the cuttings from the harvest. Smoke signals rise everywhere in solemn flags of grey, wafting wherever breeze or cool air convection draws them, often mingling with other pyres in the valley and laying down a screen of fragrant mist.
These fires are part of the ancient rhythms of agriculture as it bows to the seasons, and it is a reminder that practices such as these are as old as mankind.
Two Flames and Maggie and Two Trees
Some friends had invited us over for a summer ritual they perform every year, followed by a yoga breathing workshop and dinner. Since I like breathing – who doesn’t? – and they are good cooks, and any ritual always offers some form of crazy behavior, we happily went to it.
They started off with a bonfire, around which we all went chanting and shaking bells and other noise makers. But the fire was what got to me. Who doesn’t stop to watch fire? It’s one of those transforming, elemental forces that touches something primitive in all of us, and this one, by starting off with a sacrificial chair, made it more mysterious to me. Hard to explain what it was, but it was different than seeing logs and kindling go up. Perhaps because it signals an end to something that once had a life, and with that comes the knowledge that we, too, will be consumed.