Magical Event: Fireweed
After the devastation of a forest fire, new life blooms… often in the form of bright magenta fireweed blossoms. A couple of weeks ago, a group of curious foragers and I met out in the middle of a previously burned area with a specific mission: to honor the survivors of the Camp fire of 2018 and to send some hope their way.
News coverage of that massive fire hit me hard. As I watched people literally running for their lives, piling into cars, coughing through the quickly-encroaching smoke, I sobbed. I can almost imagine what it would be like to lose everything - your home, your safety, all of your belongings (including family heirlooms and sentimental items.) I felt called to do what I could to help, which led to The Chamaenerion Project. I got in touch with some of the survivors and had them send me ash collected from their burned homes (when it was safe to return after the fire.) Over the course of this year, I have been processing each sample of ash, then testing and testing and testing to develop a glaze for ceramics. My goal has been to keep the glaze as pure as possible; to combine each ash sample with just one other ingredient (such as a feldspar) to create a glaze with character.
During all of that testing, I was also thinking about and designing the ceramic objects that I would gift to the survivors. I settled on a chalice design because, to me at least, they represent honor, treasure, and connection with the past. For many, they would be the start of a new collection of heirlooms, a bridge between life before the fire and life after. I decorated parts of the chalices with sgraffito sketches of fireweed, a symbol of hope after a fire. Then I glazed the outsides with the ash glazes custom-make for each recipient. Finally, I finished it all off with some real gold luster and other details. I wanted these to feel precious.
Once I had finished all of the chalices, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to ship them off. I wanted to send these meaningful objects to the survivors, yes, but I also wanted to include a deeper message of hope.
Just a couple of years ago, the biggest forest fire in the country happened in my own backyard. The Pioneer Creek Fire burned rapidly and aggressively in the Idaho backwoods, leaving a long trail of charred blackness behind it. As soon as the road re-opened, I drove through it to get to a destination. For hours and hours of driving we looked at an alien landscape, still smoking and burning in places. It was eerie and sad to see such complete destruction. But now, life has returned to the Pioneer Creek Fire. Nettles are growing along stream banks, young trees are sprouting from the ashy soil, and swaths of fireweed are blazing the way for new growth.
I wanted to attract curious people to this event, so I painted fireweed designs on rocks and pasted an invitation on the back, then left them in natural areas around town. Soon, I had a lovely group of people willing to drive out into the midst of the fire to spend a morning celebrating new growth and honoring the recipients of the chalices.
Our ceremony began with a tasting of the fireweed blossoms steeped in tea, a moment of reflection. Breakfast (huckleberry muffins and poppyseed rolls with fireweed jelly) was served as I explained the inspiration of the event and the importance of the chalices on the table. Once we’d finished eating, we then had the chance to go sit out amongst the blooms and journal or reflect upon the energy or feeling of the plant itself. Then came the foraging. My lovely guests helped me gather plentiful piles of fireweed blossoms. Together, we processed them by plucking the blossoms from the stalk. It was a cheerful setting and a beautiful day out in Idaho’s wilderness! I felt honored to be able to share my knowledge and experience with this marvelous plant with my guests, who were all eager learners ready to forage!
At some point I pulled out a Polaroid camera and we took pictures of the beauty of our setting to include in the boxes with the chalices. Near the end of our gathering, we had a moment of silence to think about the recipients and honor their experience and their losses. Some guests prayed, others focused on sending them good energy, and others just held them in their hearts and reflected on what they had been through. That moment was sobering and still and crushingly beautiful.
Finally, we took a group picture and went our separate ways, knowing we had come together in honor of those who needed a little support. I took all of those lovely fireweed blossoms home to dry and created a few extra treats to slip into the boxes with the cups:
Grief Relief Tea, a blend of fireweed, mimosa blossoms, and wild rose petals to comfort and uplift
Passionflower Huckleberry Cordial, a medicinal and delicious drink to take in the evening to help promote restful sleep and relaxation
Passionflower Fireweed Bath Salts: a blend of the two flowers, plus epsom salts, sea salt, and soothing essential oils
I wanted the arrival of the cups to feel like a great surprise, with some herbal tools for dealing with grief and transition tucked in amongst the cups themselves. I wrote each person a personalized letter based on what I knew about their experience, then sent them off with love. Now that they have received their packages, I can post about this wonder-filled event and the project of creating the cups (coming up in another blog post!) I’ll also be sharing some of the recipes I used in their gift packs as well.
This project (and event) were such a beautiful process from start to finish. I poured my heart into the creation of the chalices and it felt wonderful to celebrate their completion and honor the recipients out in those lovely Idaho woods. I hope those who received our boxes of care really felt the love we poured into them.
You can see more pictures of this special event here.
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