By Sarah Schrock
While Ninjas, Jedi Masters, and Superheroes battled the insidious forces of the Dark Side from Burgar Street and beyond Monday night, I couldn’t help but explore the origins of Halloween a bit more.
Referring to the Christian holiday known as All Hallow’s Eve which celebrates the eve of All Saints Day, a Catholic holy day observed on Nov. 2, like many Christian holidays today’s secular celebration arose from pagan origins.
Samhain, pronounced “saw-win,” was a Celtic harvest celebration that marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark winter. It is the time to honor the dead, still practiced today by modern pagans such as Wiccans and Druids. It signifies the time of year when the veil between the world of the living and realm of the dead was thinnest, allowing for passage between both worlds.
Traditions that celebrated Samhain included donning masks and costumes to ward off evil spirits, while lost ancestors and loved ones were welcomed into homes through song, incantations, dance. Fire was big part of the celebration. All home hearths were extinguished and a communal fire lit. The common fire was then brought to each home via torch used as the source of heat and light for all homes to begin a new spiritual season.
I read that that in parts of middle Europe during the celebration, the lighting of fires on hilltops served as relay beacons that marked the beginning of the feast of winter stores. Once the hilltop was ablaze, winter crops could be taken from the cellars and a new fire would be lit on a nearby hilltop to send the message to the neighboring village that the feast had arrived, in turn the next village would signal their neighbors with a new fire.
I have always kept that image alive in my mind and tried to imagine a valley-wide reenactment of that tradition. Imagine, flickering golden beacons lining the valley from Carlton to Mazama. Bonfires beginning atop Leecher Mountain, trailing north to McClure Mountain, Cap Wright Hill, Studhorse Mountain, Patterson Mountain, Cougar Mountain, Lucky Jim Bluff, Flagg Mountain, ending at Driveway Butte or Goat Peak to then be followed a massive feast of locally grown squash, potatoes, beets, venison and other pantry items. Perhaps incarnations of this image came to life at the Room One Soup Dinner Saturday.
Still, the traditional time to burn is upon us and each morning swirls of smoke and the acrid smell of incomplete combustion fills the air. Burning debris is a time-honored tradition in the valley, but as with Samhain, all traditions must come to an end. Burn piles have environmental health implications for all of us, but especially people with asthma, allergies and other health complications. Slow, cold combustion of leaves and moist vegetation emits harmful particulates and toxins in the air. Given the propensity for low-lying fog and inversions in the valley, these pollutants get trapped in the lower air masses that we breath and can cause respiratory complications and irritation. Yard waste burning is technically banned in town limits by the zoning ordinance (though it is widely practiced). Thankfully, the Methow Valley Clean Air Project is here to help eliminate the need to burn.
Unfortunately, the project’s yard waste disposal progam has already collected all it can handle. But you can download a free clean air app entitled “Methow Air” to your iPhone or iPad that will alert you of the air quality rating and burn bans.
When burn bans go into effect, only certified wood stoves used for primary home heat are allowed. If you have alternative heat sources in your home, you should not burn during red days. Also, don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour on Sunday (Nov. 6) at 2 a.m. to observe Standard Time.