Instant community begins with a bewildering invitation

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 4, 2012

Rick Arthur removes freshly baked bread from his forno oven, but it’s the individually designed pizzas it produces that really draw his friends and neighbours together for some summertime get-acquainted fun.
Photos courtesy of Rick Arthur

“A what kind of party?” I asked in disbelief.

It was my friend Harriet Paul on the other end of the line. She repeated her invitation. She was hoping we’d join her and a few others for something a little different. It would give us a chance to meet some very interesting people – in fact, we already knew several of them. But I still couldn’t figure out why she, of all people, was inviting me to that kind of party.

“How do you spell that?” I finally asked.

“F-O-R-N-O party,” she said.

“Oh, a forno party!” I replied, breathing a sigh of relief. “What’s a forno party?”

She set me straight, I accepted, and a few days later my wife and I were enjoying a delightful evening at a beginning-of-summer outdoor party around individually designed pizzas baked in my Cochrane friend Rick Arthur’s homemade backyard oven – a forno oven.

Forno, as I soon learned, refers to an Italian style of outdoor masonry oven.

Fueled by wood and exuding tantalizing aromas, it can be a real community-builder.

Rick is no stranger to the power of outdoor fires. A wildfire prevention officer with the province, he knows what a terrible destroyer an out-of-control fire can be.

But he also knows what a great friend fire can be, too. “See how people will gather around a fire? It draws us, and in sharing it, we become community,” Rick told me.

“My initial inspiration for building the forno was nostalgic memories of my grandmother’s bread that she used to make in a clay oven that they had on their homestead. I thought it’d be nice to try to build one in my backyard.”

And he did, and the result is the very impressive seven-foot-square by 10-foot-high forno oven that now sits proudly behind his home.

When he completed it three years ago, he invited his neighbours over to help break it in. Many of those who came, although they had lived in the area for years, did not even know each other’s names. His forno party that evening created instant community. Each family designed their own pizzas and shared them with their other new-found friends.

Well, that sense of instant community was certainly what I experienced the other day when we gathered for pizza around Rick’s oven.

One of my new friends that evening was Nick Lenstra, a pipeline and trenching specialist who lives east of Cochrane. It turns out that he had won the forno social event at a church fundraiser last fall and gave the evening to Harriet and her husband, John, as a Christmas gift.

As we chatted, Nick shared with me the inspiring story of his recent conference encounter with B.C. coastal artist Roy Henry Vickers.

The renowned First Nations artist had spoken of the power of beautiful memories to create and renew the spirit of community among his people. Speaking humbly about his own talents, Vickers had said, “We are all created equal with special gifts, and if we reach out to each other in sharing these gifts, we all become richer.”

I think that richness is exactly what all of us at the backyard forno party experienced that evening as we reached out to each other with our beautiful gifts of presence, allowed our personal stories to intersect, and created and renewed our own sense of community.

Thank you, Harriet, Rick, Nick and the rest of you that were there, for expanding my own sense of what a wonderful community we are part of in and around Cochrane.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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