Candles. When I was a kid, my mother used to light candles at the dinner table sometimes. She admitted not too long ago that it was a way to calm us kids down. It worked. I would gaze upon the small flame, hypnotized.
Nothing's changed. The surest way for me to calm myself - especially if slow deep breaths are ineffective - is to look at flame. If the burning candle smells good - even better. Most candles are too heavily perfumed, but there are some that are almost divine.
Fire in the hearth. The best place to be in a house (excepting maybe bed) is right in front of the hearth before a real wood fire. We have gas logs now and it's not the same. I love the way fire continues, and can be transported. I love the ancient bonfire traditions, the sharing and dividing of the hearth's fire - the heart of the home. Whenever fire is involved - the moment takes on a resonant quality, even if there is no particular reason for it.
Maybe that's why there are so many candles and fires and lights at the darkest times of the year. Comfort and joy.
Still, I remember being very young (especially for this), lighting matches one by one and letting them burn almost all the way to my fingers, crying for the Little Match Girl. I remember Joan of Arc, and countless women charged as witches, and forest fires, and the general rapaciousness of out of control fire. I think burning - being consumed by fire - must be one of the worst ways to die.
But I love the fire that is understood and respected and somewhat domesticated.
I love the way fire moves, the way it feeds from air and wood and oil, the way its wildness can be studied and almost communicated with sometimes. I love the shapes of flames, the edges, the depth of color from ash to blue to red and orange to the palest yellow.
I can look at orange coals all night long, catching glimpses here and there of quick tendrils reaching out for more. Sometimes I'll feed them a twig, just to watch the flames leap. What happens if the wind is this way? If I stack wood in this shape or that? If I throw in candy?
The best thing about camping is having a campfire - in a mountainside nook, in the desert, deep in the woods. A bonfire is great, too, especially on the beach, under the starry night. The combination of open sky and fire is sublime.
One of the roles I've always played in my secret world is the keeper of the flame. It helps to have a staff - or at least a long stick - for this one. I can keep a campfire going in the pouring rain. A hooded cloak is a good thing too - it doubles as a cozy blanket. And yes, I have one - but it's very old and (ahem) a little singed. I've got my eye on a new one - grey or green?
I feel very mysterious and powerful and very, very female as the keeper of the flame. That's another mode that beams me on.