Posted by: main street writers | May 5, 2011

The Fire’s Voice

Armed with Sticks and Chocolate

Remember sitting with friends around a campfire, on hard benches – or harder stones – mesmerized by the dance of the flames,  the snap of sparks, the voices circling and drifting off into the darkness?

Marshmallows were likely involved, and if you were really lucky, while you warmed your feet you savored charred burgers and blackened hot dogs – neither of which would have been deemed edible in the bright light of the kitchen table…and all of which carried the immediate and unforgettable taste of a wood fire.

The Ancestor’s Breath

On a beach in France, you can see the remains of stone hearths built 300,000 years ago.  Fire was our ancestors’ sole means of cooking until the 1890’s, when the warm hearth gave way to gas and electric stoves.

Consider the numbers: 299,880 years of cooking with fire; 120 years with stoves.  We have been fire-cookers for 99.996% of our entire history.

Which is why, when we burn brush in the yard, or sit around a fire on a summer night, or set kindling and wood into the fireplace, we are communing with our ancestors.  And when we taste food that has been cooked over fire, our senses recognize something deep and familiar.

Those who have died  have never, ever left; the dead are not under the earth….  Tis’ the ancestors’ breath when the fire’s voice is heard; ’tis the ancestor’s breath in the voice of the waters.   — Breaths: Birago Diop

Beyond Sustenance

“The firelight…infuses everything cooked on the hearth with a touch of magic.” In The Magic of Fire, William Rubel celebrates the ancient craft of hearth cooking.  With every recipe, he evokes the  soul-stirring experience of cooking and eating in a room lit only by fire and candlelight.  Fire, he suggests, “casts a spell that stops time and bends space.”

Slow can be as simple as cooking burgers over a fire.   It can mean traveling in a meandering, donkey kind of way.  It can mean carving out time and space to write whatever wants to emerge.

Always it means getting close to what matters,  taking time to connect with what lies at the core – of a community, a family, oneself.  That’s what Slow is all about.


To see Birago Diop’s poem in its entirety, click on Breaths here .

To sign up for week-long Creative Writing retreats in Orvieto, the heart of the Slow City movement, click here.




  1. […] <- The Fire’s Voice                                                       Art and Soul -> […]

  2. […] <-  The Fire’s Voice                                                     Shifting into Slow  -> […]

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