Forged by Fire

by Matt Leslie

No doubt all of you have experienced the rather hot weather of late. Pleasant, by my standards, but warm for most I suppose. I understand that not everyone agrees with this caveat, as my internal thermostat begins somewhere around 25ºC. Therefore, this “heat” is personally, idyllic. Now, before you simply dismiss this piece as the inane ramblings of a lunatic muttering about the weather, please allow me the opportunity to see my analogy through to its completion.

The perfect encapsulation of summer is the combination of lush green landscapes, the buzz of conversation emanating from parks and patios, smiling sun-kissed faces of total strangers, the waft of BBQ smells and the discussion of what to do with all the produce your modest “garden” has proffered. Still, I overhear the more-than-occasional comment about the oppressiveness of the heat. The longing for cooler temperatures as if winter could come soon enough. I can certainly understand how the "warm" weather can be overbearing and be stifling; zapping one of their energy, baking the ground beneath your feet and, most importantly, preventing a good night’s sleep. Simple actions like the mere blink of an eye can cause beads of sweat to roll ceaselessly down your back.

Upon enjoying a morning coffee on the balcony of my high-rise apartment, I pondered this group, those who will away the summer. It then dawned on me that there exists a fine line in which heat is welcomed or undesirable; a point at which, either temporally or physically, the temperature is too overwhelming. As my feeble brain meandered around this thought, I stared across the Bow River Valley; its lush, green vegetation is exploding like a giant Chia Pet stretched across the north of Calgary. A second thought entered my mind: is the dichotomy of heat and beauty an irreconcilable juxtaposition? Or is bearing the heat worth enduring because something marvellous is created from it.

The place my mind immediately raced to was the intricate and dazzling work of glassblowers. These artistic souls use tremendous heat to meld and shape the most fragile of materials into an interconnected new structure. The scars of their missteps, evident on all exposed skin, bear witness to the seriousness of their endeavour. As the glass is melted and pressed, re-melted and moulded, a vague newness dawns. And, when you hold that finished piece of work in your hand, its intricate and dainty new form can leave you speechless. Its fragility demands care and attention but it’s somehow also resilient, perhaps due to its torrid origins.

Ditto, this sentiment concerning welders and blacksmiths. To witness the delicate brutality of a knife maker is further testament to this idea of heat bearing beauty. I’m not talking about the “Ginsu” or the other mass-market knives with catchy names and recognisable logos.  No, I’m talking about the resplendent creations of the master-craftsman, shaping, through the calefaction of steel made molten then formed using the most delicate of instruments: the hammer. Over hours, often in small, suffocating workshops, a piece of metal is heated and sculpted, reheated and shaped through the sheer power of muscle and mental tenacity. Forged by fire, as they say. The result is a singular “utensil”, a one-of-a-kind object. Holding one of these pieces in your hand is truly odd: scary and simultaneously beautiful. Allowing the knife to move unquestionably through food with utter indifference to its density, is, quite literally the embodiment of the idea of beauty through fire.