Thursday 17 November 2011

Autumn Aflame

YELLOW FIRE licks the clear blue skies of these short November days in a last farewell. At the year's retirement, branches give up their last sparks to light the winter fire that will burn for us and in us throughout the cold coming months, and warm us with red ember-spice and cinnabar-stories from deep within the hearth of winter.

Hedges crackle with golden fire and bracken burns its last in the low sunlight.

Eventually the flames fall, and there is fire under our feet. 

We kick and leap in the auburn embers of the trees' last celebration.

And we lay on this soft red carpet thinking toward the day when it will turn hard and white.

 Our Autumn has been firelit from September onward...

For my birthday, Tom took me to the circus for the first time in my life.

We drove in our little red van to Cirencester for the last night of the season of the extraordinary Giffords Circus, who had circled their wagons in a field on the edge of town, ready to perform for the last time their astonishing production of Tolstoy's War & Peace.

All the vehicles were painted traditional burgundy and cream, and the wagons around the big tops served home made pizzas and programmes and Wurlitzer wonders.

Giffords are a traditional progressive circus, meaning their setup incorporates all the beauty of a traditional circus without the animal cruelty. The animals in the show were their own horses and birds, trained and loved and happy.

I was as wide-mouthed as the children in the front row throughout the show. Gasping at the feats and grinning at the magnificent Russian-flavoured music.

There was a man who tap-danced on his hands, a knifethrower and a dove-tamer, a Hungarian who galloped around the ring standing astride two horses at once, and a woman who played the violin upside-down in mid air, dangling from a rope; there was a goose who followed a horse, a hawk and a brilliant clown,  who wove the whole rambling story of War & Peace incredibly, madly together.

I was most wowed by an incredibly athletic troupe of Russian acrobats who flung each other into the air with breathtaking dare. Seconds after I took the photo below, this tiny woman - one of that troupe - tossed the flaming hoop high into the air, then she herself was flung up high by the two fellows supporting the narrow bendy board on which she stood, and she somersaulted mid-air through the flaming hoop only to land upright and un-singed on the narrow board again!

Outside the big top in the dark, the circus-glow made us grin...

... and we returned to our van to sleep, bellies full of Giffords' own hand-reared hog roast and vodka. 

These pumpkins were grown for our community by Chagfood - an amazing local food initiative here, where fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown for this area's residents and we sign up for a share of the harvest, year round, receiving an abundant box every week. The wonderful organic veg are grown by lovely people (and a horse) in a field just down the road a bit. When they reach our plates, the vegetables have not been out of the ground for longer than a few hours. The vegetables we receive are seasonal and so amounts fluctuate according to yields throughout the year. It is one of the most inspiring and nourishing (in all senses of the word) projects I've come across, and I'm proud to support it and have it as part of our community. The blooming veg boxes we receive every week really do make our hearts smile. I'll write again at some point about Chagfood in more detail, because it's important to me, but meanwhile you can see some wonderful photos of the land, the people, the project and the food at this lovely Chagfood blog.

To celebrate this year's harvest, Chagfood held an October gathering at their field, with fire and pumpkin soup and local cider sold from their hand-built vardo. As the sun set, we lit candles for a story and folks gathered on straw bales around the fire to be taken into Baba Yaga's forest. 

As ever, the evidence that we told a story is hazy at best. But you should be able to just make out our shapes by the wagon - me illustrating Tom's wonderful story with my accordion. It was a different tale this time, though our favourite Russian witch featured again of course. This time we had a chase (with suitable Russian um-pah chase-music) through the forest, and even squeezebox-witch-snoring. 
Thanks to Miriam Boy for taking these photos of us. I particularly like the candle-lit face of the child to the right of the photo above.

As the evening drew on, we sat in happy circle with the people of this place with whom we share vegetables, and looked into the fire.

The magnificent Kes Tor String Band played bluegrass into the night.

And the fire burned higher.

On the fifth of November, we attended another local spectacle - the Sticklepath Fireshow - a yearly performance of puppet-ghouls and papier-mâché skellingtons in front of an audience of thousands. 

The fireworks that followed the death-parade stitched the black sky with fire-stars, dancing their extravagant crackles about the white moon, who stood still up there and watched.

And after it all, the enormous wooden hotel-façade that they'd built for the performance, was burnt to the ground. What a strange and powerful thing it was to stand in a crowd of thousands watching a house burn. Watching the way the rafters and stairs burnt through, the burning rocking chair which had contained Guy Fawkes, and the hot hot dancing changes in the glowing wood, disintegrating in the fire, we wondered at how odd it was that this old fire tradition had got so knotted up with a character in a seventeenth century Catholic plot to assassinate the Protestant king. 

If you thought about it too hard, you realised it was quite a horrific scene - all these people standing calmly watching a house burn to the ground. But it had power too - at the Inbetween place straddling the old and new years, the ghostly place, where the dead and the Others are much closer than usual, we gave our unwanted things to the burning house of the old year, and were warmed by the flames into the new. 

That new year's day, November the first, we climbed the hill we climbed last Samhain, and saw the sun up with fried eggs and toast on a fire.

This new sun painted our edges with gold...

... as we stood together looking over the auburning of our land in the sun of the year to come.

Now, at home, as the fogs roll in, we see the flame burn on in the pith of the pumpkins and in the shadows on a leaf. 

I am preparing for upcoming winter fairs where I'll be selling prints and originals and Christmas cards too! Over the next two weekends I'll have stalls at two Steiner School fairs in Devon: Exeter Steiner School on the 26th November and this coming Saturday, 19th November, at the South Devon Steiner School in Totnes, who are holding what looks to be an extravagant advent fair, with marquees and tents of local crafts and chai and music and mulled punch and more! Here's the poster to the left, above that for another event we'll be selling our wares at: Dartmoor Frost & Fire - A Yuletide celebration on December 11th, hosted by Nigel Shaw and Carolyn Hillyer, mythic musicians of Seventh Wave Music. There'll be medieval music from the wonderful Daughters of Elvin, transporting bardic harping from Elizabeth-Jane Baldry and many more warming wintry wonders.
For the whole of December, I'll have my work exhibited again at Chagford's wonderful Wholefood cafe - The Courtyard, where on December 13th, we'll have a mini fair over a couple of hours in the evening for the community's late night opening hours where aromas of hog roast and carol singing waft across the square and both wine and gift giving are mulled. Please come along to any of these events if you are nearby. If you are not, keep an eye out on my virtual stall for wintry creations in the weeks to come.

If you look in through the damp window of our studio these days, you can see that the flames of autumn have leapt into my latest painting. 

May the flame keep burning, gold and copper and red, in your core as the nights close in.