Full Moon Promise
At 6pm on a freezing late January evening, I am standing in my muddy urban back garden, regretting a promise I have made to my children. I don’t make many promises, because certainties in life are difficult things, things that might change at any point, particularly at the moment, as the world lurches from crisis to crisis, and the rules around the ways that we live and interact others are constantly in flux.
The promise that I have made though, is to do with the moon. The moon does not change, and there are no rules about the moon, so this is a promise I can keep. I did try to wriggle out of it earlier. I had been working all day, planning and marking, and sorting out our messy house, so even though I knew a few hours in the garden would do me good, what I actually wanted to do was flop on the sofa with a glass of red, and watch something mindlessly funny. The previous days’ resistance couldn’t be redoubled because the rain had stopped, and it wasn’t snowing or freezing, yet.
A fire for each full moon was what I’d promised, because I love the times we all spill out of our 1930s terraced house, into the garden, the local park, along the river path, or up to ancient woodlands near to where we live. Some of the longer trips take more encouragement for everyone, with a need for snacks and flasks of hot chocolate, but the garden is easy.
We have a small and ancient fire bowl, that my mother bought me as a graduation present nearly twenty years ago. It has lost many of its original parts, and there is a hole in the bottom which means that ash spills out in long white quills, onto the grass. Because our garden is all about play and coexistence, we don’t really mind, though I did attempt to repair the fire bowl with the metal bits of old disposable barbeques, that we used in the summer.
My daughter is so keen for this fire, and I know she wants the magic that it will bring. I want to show her that grownups do do the things they say they will, so I find myself trudging down the slippery leaf coated path, stepping over abandoned bikes and plastic toys, to see what we have in the shed. We have saved all sorts of bits and pieces for kindling fires, old cardboard boxes that won’t fit in the recycling bin, scrap paper, twigs and branches pruned from the garden, when on rare occasions, we try to make it a little more tidy. Last time we had a fire, we portioned these treasures into bags, so the next time would be easier, but I struggle to find them in the dark, as so many things were disrupted in the shed when we pulled out the sledge for its yearly outing when the snow finally came.
My daughters spiral around the garden from fire pit, to slide to trampoline, as I track my way back and forth. They want to help, but they don’t really understand how to, they want to make the fire, but can’t wait to do it in stages and just want to pile it high with things to set aflame. We kindle our blaze with some old grey sheeps wool, which we received as packaging around a cold food delivery. This is normally something we would return, but the current circumstances mean that suppliers don’t want anything back. It seems strange and oddly fitting, to add stubs of last year’s candles, as our garden fills with the smoke, the scent of lanolin, and crackling pieces of paper.
It is very cold. My husband and son wisely stay indoors, rooted to the glow of the television. I mine the depths of the shed for something dry that might work at getting the fire going more, to make it lively and consistent enough for us to add larger pieces of chipboard and plywood. We do not have any proper logs, and I now wonder if we need to keep a supply, if we are really going to do this once, maybe twice a month. Our last fire was on New Year’s Eve, so strange at the time, to be just us in the garden, when normally we’d have a house full of people.
Getting things going in routine isn’t always easy. It’s something I struggle with, and the boundaries of time in a working day and week actually help me to feel anchored in the things that I know. Much as I strain against the long hours, the hurried goodbyes and the dash out of work to get to the school gates on time each day, I feel with these things I know where I am. Committing to a practise once a month isn’t much really, but perhaps it will tether me somehow as we drift from unknown to unknown as the year unfolds.
Another more immediate problem I have now, is that our space-age, windproof lighter is very old, and no longer so good at holding a flame. To make it work takes determination, and although both girls are desperate to participate, I shriek them away for fear that their mittens or whirling coats and scarves will catch instead of the pile of debris, which I am calling the kindling. It is so cold. Water seeps up through the soil all over the garden, and standing here, in the raw air, in a sea of mud, it would be so easy to give up. I feel that the house is watching me, with warm orange eyes, quizzically wondering what I am doing, like an amused but doting parent. The parent here though is me, and I am the one that made the promise.
I know I am lucky to be here, with a warm home and a garden, with trees arching over me, and beautiful children who turn their faces to adore the moon and want to share a special fire with me. So I make it work. First the flames are tentative, then too tall, as the wind pulls at the twigs. My daughters chant fire, fire, they squeal with excitement, then dance away when the sparks get too high and the fire is a bit scary. I wonder what the neighbours think, as smoke billows over the fence and up over the rooftops. I don’t think that they will mind, there are many wood burners in these houses and many people also enjoy a garden bonfire.
When we make things work this way, something happens. My husband and son emerge from the house, wrapped in fleeces and hats, saucer eyes adjusting to the dark, squinting at the smoke. The fire pulls us together, and we all tend it, poking in twigs and turning the embers. We do not see the moon on this night, because it is too cloudy, but we do know that it’s there. We did see it the night before, round as a magical cheese, ghosting up over the branches of our neighbour’s cherry and silver birch trees.
Our January fire doesn’t last long, as it’s too cold. Despite alternating between trampolining to keep warm, sitting in garden chairs close to the flames, and running and jumping, my girls soon retreat indoors and I am alone again in the garden, under the wide darkness, with the hiss of the ring road, which is quieter than usual. I feel light, in spite of the cold and mud. I have kept a promise and we have had a full moon fire, I realise I am completely in the moment, and happy.
Perhaps making a promise will keep me more accountable to getting out of my head and into my body. Into the garden and the natural world, and sharing the magic that sitting around a blaze can bring. The next morning, I go out early, before anyone else is awake. The garden is bathed in a feathery frost that sets icing sugar over fallen hazel leaves, and ices calligraphy on window panes. Crunching over the lawn in my slippers, I reach for a fallen ember. I will take it inside and keep it in a special dish. We will do this every time we make fire, holding, keeping then reigniting our intentions. The light goes on always, and so will we.