Friday, October 17, 2014

breaking down change, one: The Beeswax

What luck the beeswax has not changed. Here in California I make beeswax candles just as I did in Michigan.


I considered leaving the beeswax behind, considered not filling the van with all that gear and wax and traipsing with such a load through the cornfields, over the mountains, across the desert, but now here I am with two big bins of raw Michigan wax out in the driveway (and four smaller bins in a garage somewhere in Las Vegas—thank you, Louis), and so now I still go out and chop up hunks of wax, put the hunks in a pot with some water, put the pot on a burner and turn on the burner and the wax melts and once it is melted I put a cloth over it, dunk the cloth down into the wax in order to ladle out clean wax and then pour the clean wax into a large glass measuring cup, from there pour the wax into molds, molds that are wicked and neatly rubberbanded, ready to go. The wax cools, begins to harden. I do a little trim work. Eventually I pull the candles out of the molds, trim the wicks, put a label on each, wrap them up, send them off.


OK, there is a slight change. In California the wax melts more quickly; I must use a lower setting on the burner. And I have noticed that if the wax gets too hot, as it sometimes does, and you know it does because it begins boiling a bit, or perhaps it is just the water boiling up through the wax, but if it gets too hot one must wait to pour the candles, and here one waits longer. So that is another thing—the wax cools more slowly here. Because, I guess, in general it is warmer. The temperature is incredibly consistent—so far almost always between 55 and 75 degrees, 55 happening very early in the morning and 75 around midday. Of course there is the occasional flare into the 80s or 90s, and perhaps it will get colder at some point, some night, say, down into the 40s, but in general it seems one can depend on a mild, consistent temperature, and the wax reacts to this by setting up with its own incredible consistency, a bit more slowly, and this is good.

And this change: For now, I have a room dedicated to the wax—a true beeswax room. This is good, too. (Though now I want a bigger room.)


Making an open-ended move to southern California from northern Michigan has brought with it quite a bit of change and a good deal of uncertainty. I have been trying to figure out how to think about that change and uncertainty, how to process it, how to, in a way, acknowledge it and debug it all at the same time. I have been here four weeks. So much has pulled my attention away, pulled it this-a-way and that-a-way, and now this week the beeswax brought my attention back. Brought it right back and gave me focus. I set up at the December Store here in Ventura and I received a wholesale order from the Old Town General Store in Lansing. I dug into the wax. I started pouring bears and pine cones and moose and Buddhas and frogs and wolves and the sameness of that felt good.

The funny thing is, this one thing that feels the same is also a thing that is inherently about change—beeswax is all about change. It serves the bee, it serves man, it melts, it hardens, it blooms, it changes color, it can be malleable, it can be brittle. If it’s been made into a candle and somebody lights it it becomes a light, a flame, heat, a scent, a pool of wax, and soon, maybe, even, a headless bear or moose or little owl. The change starts as soon as a honeybee pulls a little flake of it from that gland in her abdomen and starts working it, turning it into whatever she needs it to be. It picks up the essence of flowers and nectar and bees and buds and honey and dirt and all I do is clean it, in that pot with a little water and a cloth and a ladle. Then I form it into whatever I—or you—want. But beeswax is also consistent—it will never rot or mold or crumble or fade away. So I know I cannot truly change it.