We gather birch, eastern hemlock, and white pine for the pyre, which rises like a long, bony finger from the rocky shore at the tip of the peninsula, itself a knobby digit jutting out into the depths of a sprawling bay. A finger upon a finger, pointing heavenward. Accusatory.
We will light the pyre at three minutes after the stroke of midnight, and its monstrous blaze will burn out the Winter Witch and usher in the long days of summer, the sunlight that weaves through cherry orchards, skips sharply across the surface of the water, a pale glassy blue in some places, bruised indigo in others.
But with the endless, warm summer days comes the long line of summer people, snaking a path up from the city. We watch them as they gather their lanterns beneath the festive, twinkling lights of the town green. They can’t see us in the darkness of the woods that ring the beach. At midnight, they will release their lanterns like so many globular jellyfish. Iridescent orbs will float against the night sky until the paraffin burns out and the lanterns swish back down to earth, their paper shells and bamboo skeletons happened upon for months after summer’s end.
We listen to them count down; the cheers from the crowd unfurl into the night as the lanterns catch the wind and sail up, like full rounded bellies lit from within. And that’s when we douse the pyre in gasoline, toss the book of matches, listen as the hiss and roar of fire cracks across the shore, echoes out onto the water. The pyre will burn big and fast, the dry white pine already starting to smolder in places. The pine burns fastest, sharpens the scent of the woods around us. Tomorrow, only a few charred pieces of wood and piles of ash will remain. By week’s end, the burned remnants will have tumbled this way and that, the ash carried aloft by the wind.