Ash for Food
Unison Arts, New Paltz, NY
site-based research | scent | community engagement
The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive beetle that first arrived in this country in wood packing crates that were transporting goods from Asia. Now widespread throughout much of North America, it bores holes into and infests native trees. Its damage to the Fraxinus Americana (or White American Ash) has driven the tree to the point of extinction, shifting countless landscapes. When these forests die, there is a resulting abundance of ash wood for domestic fire use.
As part of a year-long land-based episodic project called Composed to Decomposed, I was invited to contribute the program’s fifth installment. Over the month of November, I worked with the natural environment surrounding Unison Arts in New Paltz, NY. There, I learned closely about elements in the meadow, including local tree species, beetles, and fire.
A large ash tree was hauled from the forest to the meadow where it was broken down to kindling and firewood. Each time a fire was made, food was cooked on the open fire. The burning Ash was a source of heat and a place to cook; it brought people together to share food. Each fire created charcoal, marking the ground with mounds of ash. The ashen mounds were left on the ground to acknowledge hundreds of years of Ash being used for heat, food, shelter, and ceremony.
Fire is a growing terror for many wooded communities as it sweeps across the landscape of our ever-changing landscape. It is detrimental but also regenerative.Fire is a process of rapid oxidation, realizing light and heat. Fire needs fuel and tending. When burned, wood goes through an exothermic alchemical process of combustion. This transformation of materials is an opportunity to recognize the earth as both source and resource. Wood fires bring warmth and renewal; they are technology, ceremony, nature. Ash for Food became a way to develop mindfulness around the transformational process of fire and their effects on larger life cycles.