It’s really not about the product, however useful and historically accurate.
And it’s even greater than the process–though that is itself wicked cool.
For 22 years–give or take–Mark’s been making charcoal on that little hill in Chiltonville.
He’s created a little world which many of us still think about every September, even if we’re a thousand miles away.
It’s a perfect storm of research, experimentation, and calling on the help of curious souls who recognize the legitimacy of what he has created and who want to help out-
-or at least have a look-
And in the end, what matters most is the continuity–a sooty perseverance through it all.
While the wood coals, friendships have been made among many good people who have helped over the years.
The annual rituals which support this event are vital, if a little humble.
Some of us are grizzled enough to have memories of menacing hurricanes creeping up the coast…
Do we have enough hay and leaves for the wind-break?
…and sudden fires which we had to be put out in the wee hours.
We’ll never forget that one day in 2001 when the skies above us were so blue-
and so quiet.
Each year, every year, he has built his pile just so-
-with perfectly-sized wood discovered by chance on a visit to a local farmstand where he saw bundles of firewood for sale.
No one will buy these sticks, the brothers told him–it doesn’t look like firewood to most people.
And when the pile is made, with the help of several friends he covers it over.
It’s not a bonfire, after all.
There’s a draw to the mystery of what Mark creates–
He has always been accommodating to one and all-
Even as his helpers make their own accommodations for the next few nights-
The collier casts live coals into the chamber in the middle of the charcoal pit.
Now begins the slow alchemy of transforming wood into coal.
Brows catch soot as the unmistakable scent of wood turning into coal wafts down River Street, looking for quarter among older September burns.
This is a prayer that we may put all of it into context and, through the haze, sift out the purest parts:
22 years and counting.
Twenty and two.
That’s a lot of baskets full of coal.
That’s a lot of hard-boiled eggs.
So many people come and gone–
And not to trivialize or patronize, but today’s drama is nothing new. It is as transient as the greasy blue smoke rising up to the heavens.
The collier’s pit has been there all along–year upon year–
–burning away all the crap and other things which are not needed.
It remains a celebration of a shared and special thing–
Which has survived through it all.
This counts more than anything.
That is a beautiful thing.