Each day begins with cleaning out the fire box before I set and light the fire. It is still too cold in the mornings to move this ritual to the outdoor kitchen, and use the brick rocket stove I’ve built there.
Each week I sift the potash from the charcoal, pound the black char into finer lumps, and soak it in urine to activate this forever carbon before it goes onto the garden or back into the forest. The high nitrogen content of the urine is absorbed by the char so when it is put into a soil ecology the nitrogen is then slowly released for plants to take up. If char is broadcast without being activated it will draw up nitrogen from the soil and may starve plants of it.
Similarly, I use the fine potash in the perennial parts of the garden and in the forest. Broadcasting these materials becomes a ritual of gratitude, a ritual of return for all the gifts that flow from these environments.
In Aboriginal burning methods it is ash that is desired, not coals. The potash – the potassium – renews the ecology, helps to grow more life. If coals are produced during a burn then the fire is too hot and can stunt growth. The Indigenous craft of land management with fire to grow abundance while reducing fuel load, requires relationship beyond the human and technological. Fire crafting thus takes place in mythological space and time, integrating the beyond-human wisdoms of Mother Country and Father Fire.
I’ve come to the forest to cut wood for the men’s gathering and brought my chainsaw, my largest wheelbarrow, a small digging trowel and a metal bucket filled with sifted potash.
Before I cut the fallen wood I go through the forest and flick potash from my trowel until my bucket is empty. Fine ash covers the forest and my clothes.
With a barrow of wood cut I push the heavy load to the fire circle. There is sometimes a dread I carry leading up to a gathering. It stems from me fearing I won’t be in a goodly place to facilitate the night, to set the fire and the intention for the gathering, to listen to the forest, to open to Mother Country, to hear the men who come to share and enter into our culturally specific mythos.
In the lead up to this gathering I have spent time sitting and reflecting and making little rituals throughout the day. Superb fairy wrens are present as I light the fire in the late afternoon, and this brings joy. Blue Wren is the name this Country has given me.
A number of years ago I got up early to walk around lake Daylesford. It was just after dawn and I was walking down a wallaby track through the forest when I saw a magpie on the path just ahead of me. I stopped and she stopped. I want to say we watched each other, but it was more than that. I am going to use the word beheld.
I felt like the magpie and I had known one another forever, that our ancestors had known each other forever. Even though my people are newcomers to this land, I was thinking and knowing this recognition beyond time. It was after that encounter that I started thanking the ancestors of the magpies each time I gave an honouring of Country at a gathering.
The other day I bent down to snuffle our neighbour’s new puppy, Maggie, when she licked my cheek then scratched my nose with her paw and it started bleeding. I grabbed some plantain from where I knew it was growing near our quince tree, chewed it up and stuck it on my nose.
The scratch has been healing well. Today I am in the bathroom putting some of my homemade calendula oil on it and I turn side on in the mirror. I was teased at school about my pointy nose and chin and how one day they were going to join up. I never took to heart the teasing – I knew they were probably right.
Looking at myself in the mirror today I realise for the first time my features are a remnant from my past. That my pointy chin and pointy nose used to be a beak.