Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 5:25 PM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Burning Basket in its eighth year

By Angelina Skowronski
For the Homer News


Photo by Michael Armstrong

"Together," the 2011 Homer Burning Basket, burns.

See more burning basket photos on Spotted®

Adieu, renew, reflect, impart, surpass, sustain, imagine, together. These are the words that have been woven out of twigs and bark over the years.

Going on eight years strong, Homer residents have come to know the Burning Basket project as the mark of autumn equinox, when the camping spaces at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit become vacant and the rolling hills of Homer drop their purple nectar-filled petals for a fireweed red.

Twenty-five year resident Sally Wills has seen the basket's popularity grow.

"It has become such a community event," she said. "We all look forward to it every year now."

Basket organizer Mavis Muller always schedules the burn to happen the Sunday before equinox, which is Sept. 23, for the purpose of giving the community one last hurrah before the town is blanketed under snow. Relying on volunteers for the week-long endeavor, Muller and her army battle rain, wind and the cold all in the name of public art.

"This is my gift to the community," explains Muller, dressed in several layers and holding a cup of hot chocolate. "I do this every year to help people be a part of the community, to heal and a means of letting go."

A woman in an navy blue jacket with the Alaska state flag embroidered on the back approaches Muller and in a refined Australian accents asks, "As the artist, aren't you offended that it gets burned down?"

Muller lowers her ceramic mug and goes to hold the woman's arm as a sign of friendship and replies, "I could answer that, but that would take away the meaning of it for you and for everyone else. I know why I burn it, but I want to invite everyone to find their own meaning."

This year's basket held the names of two former volunteers who have passed away in the last year, Caroline Ada Williams and Alysha Matthews.

Longtime Homer resident and self-proclaimed oldest person at the event, Shirley Timmreck, 91, recently lost her close friend and partner John Pettavino. She said coming to the burn is the first time that she has felt solace since his death.

"Instead of answering the sympathy cards, I've put them all in the basket to send to him," Timmreck said chuckling. "Look at all the people around. This is here for me, and it is here for you."

This year's theme of "Together" is Muller's 21st Burning Basket project. With its birthplace at Homer's Mariner Park beach, Muller has been able to take this community event to Hawaii, California, Oregon, the Mexico-New Mexico border and Seldovia with themes such as hearth fire, overflow, cornucopia, wishing well, afterglow and unity.

Eva Saulitis has been a volunteer with the basket since its first year in 2004, and has witnessed the growth of the event.

"Rather than change on a horizontal line, I am seeing change on rather a vertical line. It is becoming deeper and people are becoming more interactive with it on a personal level; they are using it for self-healing," explains Saulitis.

Sunday evening before the burning, the percussion from the drum circle trebles louder as the sun sets over Cook Inlet. The sky is a hazy blue-gray. The weatherman calls for gale force winds Monday on Kachemak Bay, but tonight the star Spica burns orange in the distance.

Now only a sole djembe drum sets the tone. The torch carriers ceremonially enter the circle. Mavis calls for Shirley in the crowd. The 91-year-old (and going strong) shuffles towards Mavis. They hold hands and walk towards the intricately laced assembly of dried grass, fireweed and choke-cherry branches. The basket is lit. Eyes widen.

Burn baby, burn.

Angelina Skowronski is a Homer freelance writer.