Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deeply atavistic

i am feeling the cold. We had a small chilly summer and all through it i had high hopes for the next month - for warm breezes and gentle evenings. Then winter came early. We had the first hard snow,  and the shine went off it for me as soon as my husband the Archduke Piccolo spent a good hour kneeling in the slush putting the chains on the car so i could go to work. Christchurch has become a town of bitter winds and freezing rain. i hang onto myself as i walk in it. Here is a town with no centre, only edges. We are all swamp edge dwellers, here on the sufferance of the shaky old land, hanging on as the wind blows and spreads the water into cold mud. We could give up and go away. We could.

Meanwhile, at home, we have fire! Courtesy of  the government funded rebuild, our new log burner has finally been given its permit and our lounge is properly warm for the first time. Sometimes we can even squander heat. Sometimes we can even open the door without someone saying shut the damn door! Keep the heat in! Were you born in a tent? 

There is something deeply atavistic about fire.

i have mentioned my recent ancestors were sawmillers and hardy pioneering types whose response to the unique and beautiful New Zealand bush was to cut it down. The Archduke comes from similar stock; he was born in a forestry town that no longer exists, and his father logged native timber. We just can't help ourselves. It's in our blood. We see a tree and we just want to cut it down and burn it in hell. So there is my husband in the grey damp evening, taking an axe - an axe, mind you - to the poor logs, out in the mud in the back yard, where our woodpile looms under its tarpaulins. The trees must shudder with fear at the sight of the poor logs, thinking of what must be happening to them. And the poor logs must chatter with terror as my husband splits the kindling right there in front of them.

Fire was always special. Fire minding and carrying was one a specialist art. Fire both sustained and took life. Zoroastrianism, the first of the great Axial Age religions, had fire as its main motif. Fire was warmth and light and comfort and one of our first breaks away from nature. Now we are undertaking the ancient rituals of lighting the fire and keeping it going. We talk about the fire. We ask each other about its welfare. We anthropomorphise it.  When we have a power cut we watch the fire for entertainment (and feel pleased we are at least partly off the grid).  And i think about how fire watching has been entertaining us, well, preoccupying us really, ever since the days of Prometheus.


  1. Cripes, was that a whole hour putting those things on?? Then I had to take 'em off again. I don't like snow anymore.

    New Zealand is an edgy country: it is all about edges. It is the edge of the world, here; the Pacific Rim, teetering upon the Ring of Fire, far from the world's centre (wherever that is). Off the east coast (of the North Island at least, but much of the South, too), the abyss. Check out Kiwi Literature. Edges.

    Maybe as I swing the axe above my head, about to bring it down, a brief karakia of thanks might be order? Some of those logs - the really gnarled ones - fight back, you know...

  2. If you look into the log-burner, the log-burner looks like a heap of work for the archduke.