Friday, March 06, 2020

Friday Ramble - Cauldron

It remains one of my favorite intervals in the whole turning year - the cold sunny days in late winter or early springtime when the north gears up for the maple syrup season.  The Lanark woods are full of sugar bird (saw-whet owl) songs. Clouds of smoke and steam rise from wooden sugar shacks tucked in among the old trees, and the enchanting fragrance of boiling maple sap is everywhere.

The sylvan alchemy in progress is wild and sweet, and the homely metaphor of the cauldron or cooking pot has profound resonance for me. I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried as I rambled the continent many years ago, baking bannock over an open fire, stirring soups, potions and stews by starlight and watching as sparks went spiraling into the inky sky over the rim of my old pot.  The motes of light rising from its depths were stars too, perfect counterpoint to the constellations dancing over my head.

These days, there's the stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock and an unglazed earthenware tagine, cast iron cooking pots by Staub and Le Creuset in bright red, a small three-legged iron incense bowl on the table in my study. In late February, early March and April, there are the sugar camps of friends in the Lanark Highlands.  Miles of collecting hose in confetti colors are strung from maple to maple, and evaporators send fragrant plumes into the air. Tin sap pails and spouts are fixed to trees, and antique syrup cauldrons boil over open fires to demonstrate how maple syrup was made in times past.

The word cauldron comes from the Middle English cauderon, thence the Anglo-Norman caudiere and the Latin caldāria, the latter meaning “cooking pot” and rooted in the adjective calidus meaning warm or “suitable for warming”. Caldera, calid, calor, caloric, calorie, caudle, chafe, chauffeur, chowder, lee, lukewarm, nonchalant and scald are kindred words. At the end of all our wordy rambling is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning simply “warm”.

Geologists use caldera to describe the crater formed when a volcano's magma chamber is emptied by a massive eruption or when the magma chamber's roof collapses. The largest volcanic caldera on earth is the vast Yellowstone Caldera (also commonly known as the Yellowstone Supervolcano) in northern Wyoming. Another caldera (or supervolcano), Indonesia's mighty Krakatoa has been in a state of almost constant eruption for more than a century. When Krakatoa blew in 1883, its eruption was the second most powerful volcanic event in recorded history, surpassed only by the cataclysmic performance of Mount Tambora (another Indonesian volcano) in 1815.

The night that gifts us with stars and enfolds us gently when the sun goes down is a vast cauldron or bowl.  Somewhere in the darkness up there, Cerridwen is stirring her heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire—the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop from her magical vessel and awakened into wisdom and song. We're all vessels, and one of the best motifs for this life is surely a pot or cauldron, one battered, dented and well traveled, but useful and happy to be so, bubbling and crackling away in the background (sometimes in the foreground), making happy musics and occasionally sending bright motes up into the air.

And so it is with this old hen when her favorite wild places begin to awaken. Notions of alchemy bubble away gently. Sparks fly upward, images of pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. She simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else.


One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

I love your words...

Barbara Rogers said...

I've made several caldrons out of clay, with and without holes around the rim, through which the spirits of a mixture of fire and water might flow into air.

Guy said...

A lovely evocative post.