Friday, March 25, 2022

Friday Ramble, How Sweet It Is

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 steam rise from sugar shacks tucked in among the old trees, and the aroma of boiling maple sap fills the air.

The sylvan alchemy at work is wild and sweet, and the homely metaphor of the cauldron or pot has always resonated with me. I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried while rambling the continent many years ago, 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. I cherish that old pot and keep it well seasoned.

These days, there is also the stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock and earthenware tagine, a three-legged iron incense bowl sitting on the table in my study. In March and April, there are the sugar camps of friends in the Lanark Highlands, miles of collecting hose in confetti colors strung from maple to maple, evaporators sending fragrant plumes into the air, tin sap pails fixed to trees, antique syrup cauldrons boiling 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 Latin caldāria, the latter meaning “cooking pot” and rooted in the adjective calidus meaning warm or “suitable for warming”. At the end of the trail is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning simply “warm”. Words such as calendar, calorie, chafe, chiaroscuro, claim, clamor, class, clear, council, hale, haul and lee are kin.

The word caldera is also kin, a term geologists use to describe the crater formed when a volcano's magma chamber is emptied by a massive eruption or its roof collapses. Until recently, the Yellowstone Caldera/Supervolcano in northern Wyoming was considered the largest caldera on earth, but the recently discovered Apolaki Caldera in the Philippine Sea is easily twice the size of Yellowstone. It may be smaller, but the Yellowstone Caldera is not to be discounted. It is sitting above a vast volcanic hotspot, and recent measurements estimate the hotspot's magma chamber to be 80 km long and 45 km wide. The roof of the chamber is 8 km down, and the whole thing is 16 km deep with a volume of more than 4000 cubic km. That is a lot of molten rock.

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 up a heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her magical kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire. From her vessel, the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop 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; sparks fly upward, pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. I simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else.

1 comment:

Kiki said...

A wonderful, interesting tale. Thank you, much appreciated