New Year’s Eve Prep

Finding Allies

“We’re on our way to the Art Center to work on stuff for the New Year’s Eve parade. Anybody else want to come?” Charley issued a cheery invitation to anybody in earshot in Gaia Natural Foods, while Ursula gathered up edibles to sustain the group artistic endeavor.

A dread-locked head popped out from behind the produce aisle. “I keep hearing about the parade. What’s the deal?”

“The young people started it ten or so years ago. We rent the community center and hang out with costume trunks and music and potluck goodies. Just before midnight a lot more people turn up and we all head down Main Street with flaming torches, giant puppets, and banners. There are drummers and general shenanigans. This year Ariel’s brass marching band friends from Portland are coming so the music should be particularly fun.”

“I’ve heard about that part. What are you doing at the art center?”

“During this week between Christmas and New Years we take over the large common room at the Art Center and get creative. Some puppets last from year to year but it’s fun to make at least one new big thing. The huge skeleton man and turtle finally got eaten by rats in my daughter’s barn. I don’t know if the guys will want to get down the big bird they hung up at ReBound. But when we left last night it looked like a dragon was beginning to take shape.”

“It’s really fun,” said Ursula coming up. “You never know who or what is going to show up. The young folks have already made one trip to ReBound scavenging for likely materials and will probably make a few more. I’ve got fabric I’ve been collecting plus other odds and ends. I want to make a bunch of banners this year.”

“Maybe I’ll come by. I’m pretty good on the sewing machine. I’ve done a lot of theater work.”
“Perfect,” said Charley. It really is street theater.”

“Is the parade legal?” asked an older man overhearing their conversation.

“The kids always wanted it to stay anarchistic like it was in the beginning,” answered Charley. “But us parent types rented the hall for a staging area the second year and by the third year felt we should honor the City’s request to work on some of the logistics. Small town politics, you know. For one thing, it was making things awkward for our friend, Tad, the police chief. Then the City made us apply for a permit that involved paying 300 bucks for event insurance. We went along with it that year to keep the peace. The next year a group of us identified with it were out of town and the parade happened anyway. The following year we pointed out that it had taken on a life of its own like Times Square and that the City’s insurance covers it just like the 4th of July parade they sanction. They agreed to mellow out about it if we would help with security. So we round up volunteers to wear vests at the intersections. The whole thing only lasts about twenty minutes from start to finish.”

“Who’s we?” asked the man.

“Cedar ReSources  – a citizens group that is working towards sustainability in our area villages. We see the parade as a great community building opportunity. It doesn’t hurt the economics of the holiday week either. Now there are parties and bands at a number of venues and people make reservations at the inns along the street months in advance.”

“Come on by the Art Center to see the process. For sure show up for the fun on the 31st. You could even wear a security vest,” Charley offered.

Ursula reappeared with her basket loaded. “OK. I’ve got cheese and wine and chips. Carrots and cauliflower. Molly is making hummus. Raven promised brownies. That should hold us for the afternoon. I’m figuring we can order some pizzas for whoever is around at supper time.”

“Let’s grab some beer.”

“I hear they’re making animal masks this year like the ones they did for Solstice,” said the young girl behind the counter. “I’ll be there when I’m off work.”

 

 

The Art center was already humming in creative chaos when Charley and Ursula arrived. Beer bottles from the night before and active looking latte cups were scattered amidst piles of fabric and poles, glue guns and scissors. A young girl Ursula didn’t know was making fairy wings with Maddie from Elder House. A couple of sewing machines stood idle at the moment but obviously had been put to good use judging from the clutter around them. Ariel’s cadre of teenagers doing papier mach masks had been joined by Thea. Raven was helping Orca and Summer turn a rainbow colored tent into a dragon’s head. Its tail was a roll of green nylon fabric Cali had contributed from her garage stash.

As Ursula spread out provisions, a group came in the door. “More materials,” said Carlos as he and Marina came gaily through the door. “Buckets for drums. We want lots this year. And look at this cool wire mesh. It’s gotta be good for something.”

“Here’s some more sparkly fabric for you fairies,” offered Marina. “It came in just as we got there. How ‘bout these placemats for the dragon’s eyes?”

“Phew!” said Ursula quietly to Charley. “Looks like we’re on a roll here. The last couple of years have been kinda flat. The news of the brass band coming helps.”

“It doesn’t hurt to have Marina and Arlo around, plus Ariel’s new energy. The flock of birds seems to have landed – at least for the moment. Plus Thea and Mariposa for their first New Year’s. Looks like our Intention juju is still working. There’s Finch Terranova too.“

“Such a dance we all do, keeping the energy moving,” Ursula said, moving to give Charley a hug.

“It’s worth it,” he smiled down at her and kissing her lightly.

“It is indeed. Warms my heart, it does. As always.”

“Molly said to tell you that she and Gabe will be down after ReBound closes,” Carlos relayed to Ursula.

“Ursula, did you bring your animal picture books?” called out Ariel.

“Yes, and the Ted Andrews book on animal symbolism in case some of you want to look things up.”

“Can you tell us more about Power animals?” Thea asked.

“I like the way your mask is taking shape. That’s a good way to bond with your Cougar another degree, isn’t it? And you’ll have fun playing with it. Did you tell them about how you got your new friend?’

“Yes, but not everyone can do that formal shamanic process right now. Finch and Zydeco are having trouble choosing what to make.”

“Owen would probably do an emergency session,” Ursula laughed, “but short of that, I’d suggest thinking about some animal you love. Just let one come into your mind. Do you ever dream of animals? Especially if you have more than once.

“ I’ve been dreaming about Elk lot,” said Zydeco.

“There you go. I’d say that is an important messenger for you to explore.”

“But I’m kind of afraid of them when they turn up around ReBound.”

“All the better,” responded Ursula. “Dig into that. As Starhawk says, ‘Where there’s fear, there’s power.”

“Who did you cuddle with as a child?” Ursula continued turning to the others.  “Did you have an imaginary animal friend? It’s really about listening to a call…. Even just opening one of these books at random and seeing if the creature pictured resonates.”

“I had a raccoon friend,” said a skinny teen with multi-colored hair.

Ursula thought she might be the daughter of the woman who worked at the Locovore Garden but she couldn’t remember her name. Sierra? Cheyenne? “That would be a great connection for you.”

“Can you have more than one power animal?“

“Absolutely. I have several as does everyone I know. Sometimes you’ll have a main one for a time. A particular part of your life or a season. And it’s not just animals, remember. It can be trees, plants, even the Earth herself. Stars, gods, goddesses, angels. Anything that feels like a guide or an ally to you. A helper. Something who’s qualities you would like to share or learn from.”

“Awk Awk,” Raven laughed as he flew past with a handful of potato chips.

“Raven and I identified so much with our first animals that we changed our names to join them. He always has been a trickster sort and loves sparkly things.”

“And you are such a Mother Bear person.”

Finch picked up one of the books on the table and started leafing through it with a thoughtful air.

Winter Solstice Bear Ritual

Molly rushed to get to the Community Center in time to help with the set up of the Solstice ritual, a little late for her role of backup for Ursula. She had been talking to the paper buyer about the lousy recycle market situation. When she walked in the door, the room was already well into the process of being transformed. Owen and Jay were standing on tables hanging the dark fabric to divide the large room into two sections. She could see people in the kitchen setting up serving tables, Marsha Quince looking very much in charge. Someone had moved the Women’s Club Christmas tree under the East windows.

“We need one more piece of fabric to really partition it off,” said Ursula bustling up. “Did you bring any new stuff?”

“The Goddess must have been whispering to me,” said Molly. “A big green one came in today and I had a feeling it would come in handy. Let me just unload these muffins in the kitchen and I’ll dig it out. I brought the extra lights you asked for too.“

“Where do you guys want the lights?” asked Mariposa flitting up behind her.

“We talked about the inside of the bear’s den being dark, so string them up along this entrance area. People can leave their give-aways under the tree here. We moved it from the other corner to have the festive feeling out here and not in the cave. Come see it,” she said turning back to Molly. “Can you help Pia and I sort out how the altar inside should look? We have different ideas and are pretty irritated with each other. She’s always so sure she’s right and I’m too scattered to focus very well. I’m not even sure why she’s helping, the folks from the class need to learn this….”

“OK, how ‘bout if you ground first,” suggested Molly reaching out to give her a hug.

“Oh, yeah right! I guess I am sort of out of my body. I still tend to do that when there’s so much going on, don’t I? I feel a particular responsibility to Bear with this one and the students that are looking to me…. It’s all making me cranky. It’s too much….” Ursula was close to tears.

“BREATHE,” commanded Molly firmly looking Ursula in the eye, belly to belly. Then more gently, “Breathe.”

They stood quietly together for a minute amidst the bustle, going deeper with each breath and imagining their cords going down into the earth from their second chakras.

“Aahh. Much better,” they both said at once.

“I love how we can do that for each other,” said Ursula. “My cord was brown today, of course. What color was yours?”

“Silver with little sparkles in it. Like Christmas lights,” she smiled. “Would you like me to do the altar with Pia? Then you could go sit quietly with your Bear mask for a while to get ready for the anchoring.”

“Actually, I think I’ll walk down to the beach to watch the sun go down. That always seems an important part of Solstice to me. It’s like if I don’t watch it go down it might decide not to come back up.”

“Oooh, radical move, Ursula! Good letting go! I could learn this from you,” Molly admired the shift Ursula was making.

“Well, I know if I don’t go I will be no good at anchoring and mess up the energy all around…”

 

By the time Charley walked in, others were arriving too. The place was dimly lit and mysterious. He’d been held up at the Conservancy Trust working some bugs out of the mailing list. It was great to have so many people helping with ritual these days. He could sit out a few out prep-wise. In fact, two young women he didn’t even know greeted him quietly. Ursula’s new ritual class was already proving fruitful. The taller one took his plate of deviled eggs into the kitchen. The other smudged him with cedar and sage, brushing the fragrant smoke with what looked like Ursula’s hawk feathers.

As always, the smudge instantly calmed and grounded him into a trancelike state. He felt a little buzz of anticipation as Owen, recognizable behind an Eagle mask they’d made together in the Men’s Medicine Circle, pulled aside a gauzy curtain and gestured him into what felt like a dark cave. A couple of parachutes were draped low from the ceiling representing Air, while a small fire cast a glow from the fireplace in the South. He could dimly see chairs and pillows in a circle on the wooden floor, many with people already in them. Candles twinkled on an altar at the west end. He couldn’t see what else nestled there, probably shells and a dish of ocean water for the West. He had a flash of the year they’d done a ritual around Sedna, the Kwakiutl seal goddess who was especially meaningful to the surfer part of him, with a handmade kayak filled with Christmas lights in the center. Tonight the room smelled of the cedar branches that had been placed around the outside of the circle. Earth.

All the elements were there. He always liked to check. Not that any would be forgotten. Maybe it was more like “checking in.” Calling his personal circle. Soon their individual hearts would intertwine like a Celtic knot to bring Spirit, the fifth sacred thing, into the Center. Would they remember to make that explicit as they called in the directions? “Stop it,” he chided himself gently. “They’ll do just fine and all the old hands are here to hold the space and provide the deep energy.” Always there was something new to surprise them and neither the “audience” nor the “celebrants” ever knew quite how it would appear as the distinctions between them blurred.

He found one of the pillowed floor seats with a comfy back and realized he had settled in between Gideon Terranova and Michael. Finch Terranova was on the other side of his dad. It was so great to have more men involved these days, especially young ones. For a long time Owen and he had been the only ones – or the only consistent ones anyway. It quickly became obvious that Michael was kind of fidgety. Charley patted the knees on either side of him in silent greeting, leaving a calming hand on Michael’s for a heartbeat or two until he felt the younger man take a deep calming breath. Charley knew Michael was not very into what he called spiritual fol-de-rol but was present for Uri’s sake.

A dark shape suddenly loomed followed by others. The Ritual was about to begin. Draped and masked figures took their places, two in each of the Directions, while two more stood slightly to the left of the altar. The silence deepened. Another figure in a mask – a bear mask – appeared and sat on the floor on the right side of the altar. On the bearskin that he hadn’t noticed before. Gordy’s bearskin. Ursula…. He settled in another degree into a meditative place and breathing deeply himself, sent grounding energy to his wife as one more figure holding a candle came into the Center with arms outstretched.

 

 

Ursula sat silent and still by the altar. It was good she couldn’t leap up to coach or nudge her students as they made their way through calling in the directions and the elements. She’d insisted they get over the hump of wanting to read their parts. It was always tempting for those new to ritual to script things out. They wanted get it “right.” As if there was a “right.” For her the strong power came when it was done intuitively, when space was left for Spirit to inhabit, inspire and shape the words. Written out it stayed in the literary, planning part of the brain, not nearly as connected to the Creative Source. In her experience Spirit needed a lot of open space. That’s what the first clearing was about – to allow breath in so there was room for inspiration. In-spire. To Breathe. Fern had done a great job of grounding and centering the group. Soon Thea in tandem with Rhea would be telling something of Bear and the intention for the ritual. It was Ursula’s job simply to be, to anchor. She imagined the splash of leaving the boat and sent her claws down deep.

Firmly rooted, yet barely able to see out of the mask even if there had been enough light, she slipped into a dreamy state…. Soon she couldn’t remember what the intention was.… Could people could see her there in the mask?…. It didn’t matter…. She was holding the deep space…. leading them under…. welcoming them there. Being Bear. Her consciousness stretched as she put out her hand to the stuffed head of the real bearskin underneath her. She thanked this particular bear for the gift of its presence in their midst, and felt him in the Spirit world…. lumbering through the woods…. plucking a salmon out of the rushing stream…. Felt his pleasure at finding a stump full of bees…. his sleepiness as this deepest point of winter was reached, the longest night of the year…. Wanting to snuggle with his She-Bear, yet feeling that before relaxing there were some important messages to convey to these two-leggeds gathering here in this Spirit Cave…. Not from themselves necessarily… they were just setting the space…. Being the conduits…

“Is that what Bear does??” thought Ursula and with that thought tuned into the circle again. She should probably be listening while people around the circle spoke of their experiences, what they had dreamt, but somehow she knew that the deeper part of her was hearing them…. Had that been the intention? She didn’t need to take care of those dreams or figure out how to make them real…. They were being felt deep in Bear’s heart. All she needed to do was be Bear…. What do Spirit bears dream about? What will Bear ask of me this night? Or of us all?

 

Molly was enjoying being gathered up in sacred space. To her the feeling was almost tangible – a soft mossy bubble wrap that enveloped them all. She was glad her informal part of grounding Ursula was over early and she had plenty of time to sink into the familiar glow. She had thought about her health issue for a second in the beginning and then successfully pushed it out of her mind. “Let Bear’s healing energy take care of things tonight.” Now the talking stick was being passed around and people were sharing their experiences from the visualization.

Tuning in she realized the person speaking now had a familiar ring that slowly formed an image in her mind…. Ariel.

“…. As Uriel’s voice led us into the forest, I found myself imagining being at the base of a giant Sitka. I could feel hemlock and cedar nearby. A circle of Old Ones told me they are exhausted and need some respite from the caretaking of this place. They were grumpy and frail. They said we’ve put ugly structures on most of their sacred spots and only a few of their tree friends are still standing. They told me I must be part of the change – part of opening the door – part of taking over as a Guardian of the Mountain and this place….”

Her voice trailed off in uncertainty and there was an almost audible hum as everyone absorbed this news.

“I received a similar message.” The voice was Owen’s and Molly’s heart warmed. “I was inside a cave in the Mountain – really, under the Mountain. I couldn’t actually see anybody but I felt a huge, impatient presence. They told me they’ve been watching…. that we are doing a good job stewarding places with the Conservancy Trust…. some of us as individuals as well….” Owen hesitated, trying to speak what had probably not come to him exactly in words. “There is no time to lose, we must find the… meanders…. the paths…. get through the blackberry bushes…. We must see… recognize…. the Old Ones and let them go…. They want to be thanked…. We must step up to the…. the plate…. the table….”

A young man spoke simply after a space of a few heartbeats. “It was all like a dream. I saw myself walking tall and moving forward with my work at the day care center. There are children there who need to be nurtured and taught about Bear and the Mountain and the Old Ones…. This will heal them…. I can do that.”

“I am to study herbs,” said a young voice. Flicker maybe? “There are people here to teach me.”

“The community is ready for what I know…” said Jasmine Terranova.

After each there was the silence of witness. The “how” conversation would come later after the circle was closed and they shared food and chose gifts from the unwrapped offerings under the tree, emerging again into the sparkle of the Holiday season or perhaps even later as things rounded into the New Year.

 

Drumming 2

So what is it that happens at Full Moon Drumming?” twenty-something Finch Terranova asked Owen nervously as they munched on lamb and veggies encased in whole wheat rolls somebody brought from Angel’s. “I’ve never done this sort of thing before.”

“It’s a loose jam. Sometimes it gets cacophonous with so many different levels of musical knowledge and drumming experience.”slide10

“Loud too,” offered Charley. “At least when we’re inside.”

“It’s been happening monthly for fifteen years.”

“More like eighteen or twenty, I think,” said Ursula. “It began when that bunch over there were in high school.” She gestured towards Arlo, Jay and Cali.”

“Others are as new to it as you are. Help yourself in the bags of percussion toys – tambourines, maracas, whistles. You name it. The pill bottles filled with gravel make especially good rattles.”

“Not everyone likes this free-for-all drumming,” said Owen. “Some prefer structure and a tradition, be it African, Middle Eastern or whatever. Or written out patterns.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you,” offered Charley. “A tight structure like a raga is cool and deeply spiritual.”

“It’s like how sonnets or haiku with set numbers of syllables or rhyming patterns somehow frees up the mind to play with images.”

“Owen, are you getting all didactic again?” asked Cali pointedly.

The older man looked sheepish but hadn’t quite finished his lecture. “Sufi dervish or Native American trance dancing has a pattern of rhythms or movements generated over millennia that can even include spirit possession. I learned recently that Shaker turning was also a trance dance tradition.”

“I can’t really grok the celibacy of the Shakers,” said Raven who had just come up. “And I like the lack of safety in what we’re up to.”

“You would,” laughed Alex. “I get frustrated when the beat gets lost.”

“Yet many traditional cultures are open to the unexpected,” said Owen. “In Voudun it’s never known who will be the ‘horse’ the spirits ‘ride.’ Brad Keeney who works with the Bushmen says you have to let go of rhythms even or beautiful dancing to give the gods room….”

“Oooo. Let’s get him here,” said Jasmine.

“We did once several years ago,” said Pia. “Sometimes he had two songs on at the same time to mess up our expectations.”

“Not that we have possession or anything like that goin’ on,” Raven contributed, his tall thin form dancing about a bit, feathered earrings flying. “We’re just makin’ noise and goin’ with what rhythms arise. Depends on the mood and who’s here and what instruments show up.”

“How the stars are aligned,” laughed Pia.

“Did you bring your trumpet tonight, Raven?” someone asked from the edge of the circle.

“I’m taking a break from brass at the moment. But here’s Uri with his didgeridoo. It’s been a while since we had didge players show up.” A couple of people broke away to greet the latecomers.

“I like bein’ in that edgy place where you never know what’s next.” Raven continued his line of thought. “I like the fact that we’re making it up. Older traditions are there to draw upon. Some of us have training even. But we’re combining and integrating to make us a new whole.”

“When it works,” said Alex.

“When it flows,” agreed Raven. “Sometimes it’s coherent and satisfying. Sometimes it’s irritating and ear splitting. Not because someone’s playing a ‘wrong’ note,” he mimed quotation marks with his fingers, “but because we’re not in tune with each other.”

“That’s not the right word cuz it implies ‘in tune’ like our western chord scale,” said Charley. “It’s more that we’re not entrained. Not together in some way.”

“Egos maybe battling a bit.”

“What? Us?”

“Sometimes the internal virtuoso gets the better of one of us and we’re rather showing off,” Owen chuckled.

“Yet sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. When someone has a moment of being so present in the beauty of their skill that they take off and the rest give them room.”

“Play backup.”

“Yeah, the ego thing is more about hogging that spot or directing the show or … being ‘off’ somehow. Not connected with the group.”

“Don’t forget we add our bodies in there too.”

“When there’s a good beat.”

“Anyway, you’ll see that we’re improvising,” said Owen turning again to the Terranovas. “Making room for each other. Being playful. Allowing new people to be comfortable to give it a try. Just like life.”

“Inspiring the magical. Though we only manage to connect in that way every now and then….” said Cindy wistfully.

“I always like it best towards the end with just a few of us left and we can hear ourselves again – and there’s more room for dissonance and harmonies to take hold.”

“Each time is different, that’s for sure.”

“You’ll tell me if I’m doing something out of place won’t you?” said Finch still needing reassurance.

“One of the kids used to say that if you miss a beat or play a note that feels out of place, just repeat it and then it’s no longer ‘wrong.’”

“So what’s with all this talking?” challenged Raven, his hands beginning to dance on the congas. Arlo went over to join him as did Carlos. Soon fifteen or twenty folks had taken up drums. Others stood on the sidelines. Clusters of conversation persisted so the focus stayed scattered for a bit. Pia danced around the edges urging claves and rattles on the recalcitrant ones.

Most of the kids stayed out beyond the fringes of the music. Enveloped happily by the dark, they’d begun a game of flashlight tag that made them look like spirits flitting about. But as was usually the case, young Flicker sidled over and started in on a spare djembe.

If you listened carefully you might notice at a few who were a bit off. Charley’s plonking on the cowbell was erratic and a-rhythmic and the person on the third conga didn’t have a lot of confidence. But none of that mattered. The majority settled into a groove and carried the others along.

Molly lay down in the center with a deep sigh and let the beat throb over her. Though loud, it soothed her body lulling her almost to sleep.

At the end of the first fifteen or twenty minutes, an energy rush of wild-anything-goes drumming took over. Fast and loud and thumping. People grinned at each other at the joyful noise. Ursula threw back her head and laughed uproariously. Someone began to yip like a coyote.

Finch could feel the sweetness of that wild energy stir in his veins. Certainly finesse was not part of this thronging sound. Looking up at the Mountain, he wondered if he had found his home. He’d dropped in to visit his parents’ latest landing spot but there was something about this process that was calling him to linger…. As he had this thought the music suddenly stopped. Everybody was laughing and hooting in their delight at being together.

“Young Flicker here really lives up to his name. Like the woodpecker who drums on our chimneys, he knows his beat,” said Arlo quietly to Finch in the lull. “You could do a lot worse than tune in to what he’s doing.” Flicker ducked his head bashfully, proud to have been singled out by his hero.

Then the music started up again as spontaneously as a flock of sanderlings taking off at the same moment. This time the beat was more Middle Eastern. Rhea slipped into the center, banging a tambourine against her knee as her belly rolled and hips swayed. She was soon joined by Ursula and Pia as well as lithe and graceful Uri with snaky arms entwining. Two little girls in bright skirts were drawn in to dance their own versions.Drumming Circle 1

Jasmine watched, working up her courage to let her body go with the internal call she was feeling. She certainly didn’t know how to belly dance and it was hard to imagine having the grace and style of those in front of her but when Raven leapt in with wild flopping and flittering movements, she realized that there were no more rules to this than there were to the drumming. She stayed on the outside of the circle, but her sways became jiggles and her hips took up the call, seemingly of their own accord.

In a bit, as if in response to Raven’s antics, the music morphed yet again and the dancing went with it, of course, for another twenty minutes or so.

At the next pause, the dancers flopped down in the chilly sand. Beers were renewed. A few more nibbles found, especially some late arriving brownies. Most families with little children rounded up their things and headed home to bed. A few of the younger couples wandered off down the beach.

Pia picked up her flute and began a quiet Native American yearning call. It wasn’t long before Uri’s didge contributed its primal growl. Soft beats came from a Remo frame drum and the congas. A voice – whose was it? – began to chirp. Another began a repetitious wordless chant. Thea, arriving late, was surprised to hear her own voice take up a counter chant that was syncopated with the other sounds such that her notes stood out every few beats. A clave began to sound in tune with that. The whole thing was mellower and more eerie sounding. Edgier, not in a punky way, but as if a different spirit was now leading the music. Dragonfly, maybe. Bat? That mysterious creature so comfortable in the dark.

Uri was lost in euphoria and his didge seemed to be playing itself. His circular breathing was flawless for once and suddenly it felt as if Spirit had come into him. Was it…. Mountain? Bird? Animal? All of the above, perhaps. Angel? He could feel the connection with the others and knew where they were going next before they actually did it. Was he leading or following? It didn’t matter because it felt so good. The entrainment they all longed for.

Cali sat quietly nursing Menolly next to the fire as the bright blaze began to settle into coals. The evening was winding down. A few drops of rain plinked here and there. More would be following soon. Owen knelt nearby as did several others. The coals were mesmerizing. Black laced with that amazing fiery orange and red. She suddenly knew with a sinking in her heart that she needed to walk on those coals. Not tonight. No, please, not tonight. She knew it was possible – her mom and others had done it in the course of their travels and workshops. But it always made her feel slightly nauseous to imagine it. So impossible. Yet not…. she knew that…. but….

Cindy too stared into the dying fire but she was musing about her husband, Van. Little flames flickered from the coals. Cinders. Cindy. Cinderella. Sometimes she wished she could be someone different for a while. Shed the mask of the shy herb lady and be swept up by a fairy godmother into the castle of her dreams. Not to a different man. But to a man who was different. Would Van ever see the beauty of her magic? Would the shoe of the greenwitch ever fit comfortably on her feet? She knew she was mixing up metaphors but it was that sort of night. Why think in straight lines? Staring into the fire was a kind of scrying for her…. As her eyes blurred she seemed to see a figure in the flames. A salamander. She’d never understood that legend. Here salamander was a creature of the wet woods. Bogs. Yet it was often talked about as if it were a fire being. There it was dancing on the tip of its tail surrounded by blue flames.

You must come dance with me someday, Ms. Cinders,” the salamander whispered in a wavery voice. “The coals – the cinders – are calling you, aren’t they? I know you can hear me.”

Cindy froze using all her concentration to calm her gasping breath. She looked around to see if anyone else was noticing. Cali was entranced with her babe. The others were making quiet, dreamy music – the few drummers still at it were tapping now rather than pounding. Uri’s didge was dancing in and out with Pia’s flute. A voice she didn’t recognize hummed and another made rhythmic ch ch ch sounds. When she looked back at the coals, the salamander was still there, grinning wickedly at her. “You’ll dance in the fire before long, Madam Woodburn. Madam Greenwitch. Oh, you’ll dance…. Only this time you will not burn…”