Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Noah's Birthday Bonfire

There's a magic about the dark.

Last night Noah had a birthday celebration. We had daytime and early-evening committments, but he wanted to celebrate his birthday on the day, and in the dark, in part because it was a full moon. So we lit a big bonfire at our place and arrived back here with a swarm of friends just after it got really dark, just before moonrise.

We roasted marshmallows, popped popcorn and cooked bannock-on-a-stick. We doled out a big birthday cake. Every kid had brought a flashlight and they swarmed around the property, through the woods, to the apple and plum tree for (more!) food, played hide-and-seek. Then I went off secretly into the forest and hung a dozen and a half 'light-pens' off the trees. These were inexpensive ball-point pens we'd found at a store a month or so ago. They have three coloured lights in them, and button batteries and a clear plastic shank. When you turn them on you can select one of 7 colours, or a flashing sequence of all 7. They're really bright. They also had lanyards attached. So I "hid" them around the forest, all flashing like fairies, and sent the pack of kids (aged 3-17) in to find one for each of them. The sight of the lights dancing in the woods was amazing!

Then we had various packs of kids running around the property with their coloured lights spinning on lanyards. They decided you could be on a "team" by setting your light to the colour matching that of the other team members. Joining a team was easy -- set your light pen to a different colour. They roamed for a couple of hours like this at least, just being together. We had the telescope out and practically burned our retinas out looking at the bright full moon. It was totally magical. I don't think anyone will forget it for a long time.

And it made realize again that simply being together in the dark creates magic. I remembered the "Shadows in the Forest" game we have, a Waldorf-style board game played with a candle, shadow-casting wooden trees and little gamepiece gnomes. Everyone loves it and we have a fiercely-guarded tradition of saving it for certain special times of the year. This summer on warm nights we used the air mattress and an Itty Bitty Book Light to do our bedtime readalouds under the stars on the lawn. There was an amazing display of northern lights one night, and there were plenty of shooting stars and satellites to be seen. And we just love power failures. Out come the candles and the lantern, we cuddle in front of the wood stove and read aloud or play guessing games, drinking hot chocolate warmed on the stove. And I remembered the nights we skated under the stars on our home-made rink. And the night Erin and I bundled up at 2 am in snowsuits and sleeping bags and watched a meteor shower. And I remembered one of my favourite picture books of all time, Jane Yolen's "Owl Moon", which evokes the dark so beautifully. And the scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy" when the family clusters around the fire in the winter-dark evening each doing their handiwork.

It's so easy to turn the lights off and create magic. The darkness creates a surrounding cloak that draws people together.

We must do more of this.

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