The element of fire – brass

I’ve always been fascinated by brass.  When it’s polished it gleams like gold, and even though it can tarnish, it has a hardness beyond gold that gives it a more powerful feeling for me.

Even though Susan Cooper chose gold for the sign of fire in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, in my mind brass is the perfect substance to symbolize the element of fire: the warm gleaming tone invites and welcomes flame in candlesticks and evokes it in jewelry.  And the tone of brass instruments: bright, warm or hot.

When I was a teenager I had a favorite brass candlestick: a thick, deep cup that held a thick white candle.  I remember the night I watched in fascination as the candle burned down to heat the brass, melting the wax until the wick floated in a pool of clear melted wax inside this hot bright metal.

It’s fitting that at least one alcohol stove, the Trangia Spirit Burner, is made of brass.  One of these days I’d like to get one and compare it to Mechanic Mike’s Side Jet Alcohol Stove, which I bought this summer.

I sell on ebay too, and I recently started offering some interesting brass bracelets.  Some of them are elegant, some of them are downright badass, or at least I think so.  The nice thing about them is that they’re made by artisans in South Africa, so by offering then for sale I’m doing my part to promote economic self-determination and self-reliance in developing nations, as well as make one more gesture against racism.

But it’s not only the social virtue of it that gets me about these bracelets.  I’ve seen plenty of social virtue free trade merchandise that doesn’t excite me.  These things are different: they’re just cool-looking, or I should say, hot-looking.  You can have a look at them here.

alter ego cuff 1


Confession: autumn wishes

In autumn I stare at the mountains, especially when the clouds brood gloomily over them. Such gorgeous gloom! I stare from the office where I work and I wish I were up there among the dying leaves, the fading maples, the aspens still gold, even if it were cold and rain dripped from the branches.  I wish I were up there, with a good flame to cook over and keep me fed and warm –

so that I could look out over the valley where I live, gaze on the cloud shadows over the lake, and dream of the land stretching away – more mountains. I wish for the time to do this, to leave behind the struggle for survival for a while, escape into simplicity for a while to get my bearings. I’ll write more about this but to me the impulse to head for the hills is driven mostly by a longing for simplicity.

Were I up in one of those fading gold aspen groves looking over the valley, I would reflect on how strange it is that in a land burgeoning with wealth and labor-saving devices, most people still live with a gun to their head. If the bullet is poverty and panic and infamy, slower than an honest leaden drill bit, I don’t believe it makes it any less real, any less violent, any less of a threat.

I live in a place, a culture that glorifies wealth and grinds on the face of those it deems unworthy. And it does this under a cloak of optimism, faith and – most insulting of all – charity. I get lonely in this place (useless idealist!) and that’s another reason why I wish I could just go off into the mountains by myself.

As Long As Their Soda Cans Are Red, White and Blue Ones

Sterno fuel, which I wrote last time about being so fond of, is a gel made from denatured alcohol. That is to say, ethanol that has methanol added to keep you from ingesting it in order to get drunk. In the old days that deterrent didn’t always work, and Sterno fuel was sometimes abused as a handy substitute for liquor (as made famous in the Tommy Johnson song “Canned Heat Blues”), by straining out the alcohol from the gel.

My grandfather used to tell stories of men in southern Utah drinking vanilla extract as booze – the only alcohol they could get in the old days, when the Mormon pioneer teetotaler ethic still reigned supreme (before all the Gentile tourists discovered southern Utah and inundated it with their worldly ways).

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Continue reading As Long As Their Soda Cans Are Red, White and Blue Ones