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Tending the Fire

Today's post in our 21 Days to Prepare Series comes from the award-winning author of Bioshelter Market Garden, A Permaculture Farm, Darrel Frey. He is the owner and manager of Three Sisters Farm, a 5 acre permaculture farm, solar greenhouse and market garden located in Western Pennsylvania. In this post Darrel speaks about the importance of fire throughout the history of our existence.

Tonight I sit in my bioshelter tending the woodstove to keep our winter garden warm on a frosty night.  My oasis of green requires care and maintenance to stay healthy and productive. Through the long, cold December nights, we supplement the season’s meager sunlight with firewood to protect and nurture our plantings of hardy greens and tender herbs.

In addition to the normal chores of gardening, a bioshelter, or ecologically managed greenhouse, needs to be managed to keep the temperatures above freezing and below 100 degrees. This means tending the fire on cold nights and venting excess heat to storage under growing beds on sunny days. Tasks include cutting or buying firewood, splitting and hauling firewood into the bioshelter, gathering sticks for kindling and feeding the woodstove. Wood ash and charcoal are collected and spread on garden beds weekly through the winter. The chimney is cleaned and repaired as needed.

If we did not feed the fire, most of our herbs, greens and salad plantings would survive, but I could loose my collection of more tender plants, including nasturtium, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, scented geraniums, pineapple sage, African blue basil, avocado, coffee, guava, pineapple and many more. I also want to protect the building’s ecosystems of beneficial insects and spiders, which have adapted to a frost free life for twenty-five years.

Throughout our human existence we have managed ecosystems….. for good or for ill. Early Homo sapiens learned to use fire to maintain grazing lands, to cook food and to keep warm as they explored the planet. I believe that tending and watching a fire is our most ancient human cultural activity.  We have gathered in small groups around the hearth for more than one hundred thousand years. Fire is not only a tool for heat and warmth, it is also a source of awe and fear and inspiration to contemplate the mysteriousness of existence. Flames flicker and dance above the intense glow of burning embers. The wood snaps and hisses as gases escape to be transformed by the heat into flame, yellow, blue against the brilliant  red orange glow. Heat distorts the glowing light, enhancing the vibration of stored sunlight’s transformation back to radiant energy.   Since we first became human we have spent time in contemplation of mystery as we watch the flames of our fires

Surely it is a fascinating fact that the ancient Maya could watch the heavens and create a system of counting the passing days and years and centuries in cycles that all come together to begin again on a winter solstice and a full moon. Yet their advanced mathematics and understanding of  celestial cycles could not save them from the doom of over exploitation of their land and  population growth. Deforestation, climate change and warfare were apparently their down fall. The Maya eventually abandon their cities of towering temples and returned to their agrarian villages to live much as they do today.

That many modern people would see a threat of doom in the turning of the Mayan count of days is a reflection of our deep rooted sense of unease. We have a lot to worry about in 2012.  We face the same problems on a global scale that affected the Maya on a  regional scale. Our population growth and extravagant overuse of our natural resources are changing the climate at the same time we damage nature’s ability to respond. We too flirt with collapse.

If there is a lesson for us from the Maya, it is that it is possible to return to the earth, to rediscover the village and to forage a new society that seeks a balance and nurtures the environment to regenerate and heal the damage we cause. And so I nurture my winter garden. I tend my fire to maintain my indoor ecosystem. And I contemplate the mystery of life deep in the glowing embers, as humans always have and always will.

Bioshelter Market Garden

Day One: It's the End of the World as we Know it...or is it?  New Society Publishers

Day Two: It'll all turn out in the end.  Or will it?   Ellen LaConte

Day Three: Collecting Rainwater  Albert Bates

Day Four: Building Awareness of your Surroundings  Eric Brown

Day Five: The Beginning of the Gaian Calendar  Gaia Trust

Day Six: Conversation Skills You Needed Yesterday  Cecile Andrews

Day Seven: Permaculture: How I'm Preparing for a Local Future  Peter Bane

Day Eight: Peak Oil Advice from German Poets  John Michael Greer

Day Nine: Try Something New for a Sunday Night Dinner  John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist

Day Ten: Resiliency: It's Not Just a Catch Phrase, It's a Way of Life  Wendy Brown

Day Eleven: On the Eve of the Prophecy, from a Squat in the Woods  Miles Olsen

Day Twelve: A Woman, a Plan and a Canard... Sharon Astyk

Day Thirteen: How to Make Your Own Fence and Gate for Free  Oscar and Karen Wills

Day Fourteen: Taking the 'Burbs: Square Yard Gardening' Ellen LaConte

Day Fifteen: It's NOT All of Nothing Deborah Niemann

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Large_bonfire.jpg

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