Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday Ramble - How Sweet It Is

It is one of my favorite intervals in the whole turning year - the handful of cold sunny days in late winter when the north gears up for the maple syrup season. The Lanark highlands are filled with the courting songs of the sugar bird (saw-whet owl). Clouds of steam rise from sugar shacks tucked here and there among the old trees, and the aroma of boiling maple sap fills the air. The woods are realms of smoke and sweetness.

The sylvan alchemy at work is wild and enchanting stuff, and the metaphor of the cauldron, maple syrup kettle, or cooking 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 cast iron vessel, and I keep it well seasoned.

These days, there is a stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock and clay tagine, a three-legged incense bowl on the table in my study. In late February and early March, there are the sugar camps of friends in the Lanark Highlands, miles of collecting hose strung from maple to maple, evaporators sending fragrant plumes into the air, tin sap buckets fixed to trees. Antique syrup cauldrons boil over open fires near their sugar shacks to show visitors 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 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 caldera, calorie, caudle, chauffeur, chowder and scald are kin.

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.

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.

3 comments: said...

Of all the beautiful essays you have written, I find that this is 'the one'. These stirring descriptions of caldron, memories, night sky and all of us as vessels is both powerful and sweet. Thank you so much, Cate.

Barbara Rogers said...

What wonderful images. Loved it!

Jim Cummings said...

Beautiful…..! On a long ramble, I’m tapping in rarely, but appreciate the sweetness when I do!