Warmth gently recedes from the air and the earth. We lay our burdens down and sigh, gathering into circles like humans always do. Sometimes there is something in the center of the circle; sometimes there is a story to be told. Sometimes there is only silence, and the echoing heartbeats of a day well traveled.
It begins with a gathering, an accumulation of dry leaves and twigs. Someone's hands, worn thick and calloused, mold separate pieces into a coherent whole. A balancing act, the creation of a tiny teepee for a sprite of the forest. Breath forms into fog in the evening air, as the warm dampness of breath is freed from our lungs and is set free to cling to itself as it rises into the atmosphere.
A spark and a catch and there is a tiny new being suddenly clinging to the smallest of leaves. Her life will be short, the smallest blink of an eye, but she is caught before she can fade away. The wind shifts and the fire wraps its minuscule fingers around the base of a branch, taking a breath and growing upward, protected by the round shelter above her. Stretching tall like a dancer reaching for the sky, she spins and twists, following a rhythm unheard but only felt by us, sitting in this circle, bearing witness to her story.
We murmur to one another, our voices carrying more meaning than words, sending out threads of connection and quiet understanding. Our presence creates a protective circle to envelop the fire, and in that circle she grows, alive and giving. Laughter dances across all of us, and weariness, and the peace of being only present. We are wholly here, in our bodies, aware of the heat at our chests and the chill at our backs, pressing us closer. Our shoulders rub and we offer our hands forward, palms to her, giving back love and gratitude. Smoke spirals upward, taking tiny embers on short-lived flights toward the stars high above the trees.
In her life she is fierce but kind, possessing a gravity that pulls us to her, but not so close as to feel too sharply her embrace. In this way she is always surrounded by a beautiful, ever-changing community of people who need her but respect her. And she will always be alone.
When at last we are truly at peace, and can lay our bodies down to let dreams take us, her life fades from that of a mesmerizing woman to that of a gentle, wise crone. As we fall asleep, one of us remains alone to watch her lay down her own weary burdens to rest, to follow her into the dark. The coal glows with waves of color, deep wrinkles of ashes collapsing inward until the last light fades, and only her perfume remains.
In this way she lives one thousand lives, being brought to life by our hands, giving us warmth and safety, and then allowing us to lay her down to rest. This campfire, the most beautiful woman of all.
ALSO IZ GREAT FOR TOASTING ZEE MARSHMALLOWS, JA!