Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's Greetings from Santa and Hawk

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Feeding the Fire

Saturday night the Firebird went up again, gloriously, as several thousand moderns gathered ‘round, transfixed by its healing spell. As I swayed from foot to foot, a sleeping Hawk under my coat and wrapped against my chest, I heard someone behind me say, somewhat obviously, “I feel like a savage performing an ancient ritual.” Fortunately, this casual comment failed to incite a reaction from the fundamentalist forces of antagonism that earlier in the evening—or so I’d heard while waiting in line at Artisans for my three-shot Americano—had protested the glorious event for its purportedly pagan character. I wondered whether Christmas trees occupy a place of honor in the living rooms of these latter-day crusaders.

It’s rare these days to witness, much less participate in, any kind of public ceremony that doesn’t involve spectator sports. Indeed, in an age where commonality with your fellow person is most likely to be sought and found in one of your neighborhood’s three Wal-Mart Superstores, a civic event like the Phoenixville Firebird Festival is positively magical in its ability to draw so many in.

Unlike those odd family heirlooms of behavior wherein the original intent is lost and/or willfully forgotten and your Christmas Day feast consists almost entirely of cold cuts on potato rolls and you persist in perpetuating this behavior because you’ve persisted thusly since 1971, the Firebird Festival was founded with a grounding in myth and a memory of decades of local economic decline. Also, people like burning things.

Jenifer laughed at her own childlike glee when, after the morning’s class, she described the day as her favorite of the year. This time we were even more excited than usual simply because it would be Hawk’s first time ex utero. We would also be contributing to the town’s rebirth in our own small way by working a table promoting our friend’s yoga studio.

We set up shop in the lobby of the Colonial Theatre, a smaller version of similar turn-of-the-last-century movie houses such as the Embassy Theatre in Wellington or the Paramount Theatre in Austin. We situated ourselves by an olde-tyme Santa sleigh and a restored Wurlitzer organ and got down to the business of selling yoga, which boiled down to answering children’s queries about the contents of the festive little holiday-themed boxes occupying our table. The answer was “yoga” or, what amounted to the same thing, “nothing,” since the boxes were intended to deliver gift certificates or class cards. Oddly, none of the children was satisfied by our answers, though more than one attempted to cart off a box all the same.

On the off chance I’d have some free time, I took my notebook and conjured a plot point concerning medieval European politics. With all the yoga talk and ancillary burrito eating, however, I didn’t get around to catching up on a primary source I’d chanced upon in a used bookstore in East Stroudsburg (home, incidentally, to the Frank Frazetta museum, which may well be the objective of a future field trip—I’ll keep you posted). I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, since Hawk, 15 weeks old and already a precocious flirt, was bound to be the major attraction.

As the burning time approached, we packed away our gear and headed down to the site. The streets were filled with people eagerly awaiting the countdown and soon enough the sky was filled with smoke from wood saturated from the week’s heavy rainfall. Within minutes flames licked the mighty Phoenix and the intentions of thousands soared heavenward.

Afterwards we followed the flow back up Bridge Street, walking back to Jess’s house for her “Pyro Postlude.” For the first time in recent memory, we found ourselves at a genuine party filled with interesting people our own age. Jenifer and I certainly had no idea what we’d find when we moved to the area from a university town, and it took us some time to get our bearings and discover the awesomeness lurking beneath the surface. Usually, however, this awesomeness found expression in folks a decade or three our elder. And now, on Firebird Day, another layer of Phoenixville opened to us.

Later, I walked to retrieve the car to spare Hawk the cold. The streets were mostly empty now, but the lights still shone with yuletide cheer. I scraped ice from the glass, then circled by the fire site to see the remnants of the blaze. The fire was still going, now surrounded by a small circle of stalwarts. I imagined our friend Henrik, chief Bird Builder, was among them, and envied these few in this moment. I smiled, though, too, for I have had my share of fire-talk; and I thought to myself, or maybe I said it aloud, “There’s good medicine.” It takes only a few, or perhaps not even that many, to change the world.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 08, 2008

Firebird Is Coming

A friend of mine, a small-business owner, insists the world is burning. And it is, I suppose, what with the economy and all, but then the world is always burning, one way or another.

Here at Holy Embers we like the glow of fire, especially the sea of flame that welcomes you at dawn, as the red sky did this morning. But my favorite fire is that of the burning bird at Phoenixville’s Firebird Festival. The fifth installment of this annual community ritual happens this Saturday, December 13. If you’re local, or even if you’re not, head on over and join those who have helped pull a failing steel town from the ashes and forge it anew. You can find the schedule of events here. (Note to friend: it's free.)

Labels: , ,