by Mimi Hedl
The wind takes the bamboo ashes far and wide. Soon what once possessed 7,500 cubic feet (bamboo rhizomes grow 1 foot underground) will have disappeared in all but memory. I saved one rhizome as a souvenir. It will go in some appropriate spot, a medal of sorts, to commemorate the battle that began more than a year ago, when I began thinning the canes in November.
With frigid temperatures and snow still on the ground, I burned the dried rhizomes without fear of embers igniting elsewhere. I did not feel prepared for the intensity of the burn. Because the rhizomes sat for months, they compressed into a tight pile. With no rain and much wind, they became dry and brittle.
One match and one balled up sheet of newspaper set the process in motion. Quickly I scurried 20 feet away from the pile, as the inferno exploded into a volcano of fiery ash. With a 10-degree day, the heat felt welcome. I peeled off layers of clothes. I stood transfixed, watching a year’s worth of struggles change into yet another form.
After 30 minutes, the pile had burned down. I could move closer to the flames. I raked the rhizomes along the edges into the center, thankful for my leather gloves, protecting my hands from the heat. Then I remembered: I had two cast iron pieces to season, a large kettle, and a scan pan a friend had given me, so badly etched with carbon nothing would cook without sticking. The kettle I’d taken to a
friend who did sand blasting for farmers, and that process took all the pits out of the kettle another friend had given me, as beyond hope, maybe good enough for a plant. (I have become the patron saint of discarded objects.)
The sand blasting made the kettle look brand new, it only needed seasoning. The scan pan would take more work, but the rhizome fire would easily burn off the carbon build-up. Inside I go for the cast iron, the flax seed oil, and a silicone brush.
First I lay the skillet on top of the fire. The skillet has to tilt as it sits on the flames. The heat doesn’t distribute evenly. I discover I can lift the skillet full of hot coals and shake it like I have nuts toasting inside. The coals will eat off the carbon. Every bit of the inside has equal heat this way. It’s fun to then tip out the coals, fill the skillet with snow, and watch the snow become boiling water. I pour off the water and accumulated carbon, and repeat the process again and again until no carbon pockets remain in the skillet. A beautiful process. Although the skillet doesn’t look brand new, it will cook a lovely omelet.
Many people make the mistake of applying too much oil to the cast iron. I used to. A thin coat, applied with a brush, will coat the cast iron. Should you need to apply another thin coat, you can do that later. You want to avoid the jellied oil in the cast iron that makes everything stick. In this case, more does not mean better.
After both pieces have had their resurrection by fire, I feel hungry. The pile of ash has one more job. I go in the house and prepare a quarter of a cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onion and garlic. I make three tin foil packets and go back out to my headquarters. A deep hole, wide enough for all three packets provides my oven. Then I put a layer of clay on top, then a mountain of hot ash. I salivate. How I love these camp fire meals!
I stand watch over my dinner. Hollis (from Hollis’s thistles) pulls into the driveway. He exclaims, “What’cha doin? Tryin’ to burn down the woods?” I motion him over to my fire, tell him I just put a punctuation mark on my bamboo project, seasoned two cast iron pieces, and now cook my reward. We talk for a bit. He wonders if I need any wood. How nice. I don’t though, but I appreciate the offer of help. After a few more minutes, I open my oven. I shovel off the coals, dig down, and pull up the parcels. I feel their softness through my gloves. I smell their deliciousness. I thank Hollis for stopping by, and I head inside to feast. Nothing could taste better. Pure ambrosia. After which I collapse into a well deserved nap, and dream of bamboo, as Nita says, in someone else’s garden.
Standing by the burned pile, with a few odds and ends that didn’t burn, I feel like I’ve made peace with the earth. To have battled so long and so furiously because of a romantic notion, and oh how beautiful bamboo does feel, look, and to see the scars I made on this land because of that notion, gives me respect for what will become part of this mosaic.
And it does seem like a collaboration, Bud. Not with another person, but with the earth herself. My solitary life has kept me from embracing projects with other people, but I see this partnership with the Earth as my calling. My joy explodes when I see plants growing in happy harmony. I hope la tierra looks at those spots of beauty and forgives me.