The photos just above were all taken along Rte 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway or Coast Highway, depending what part of the state you’re in) last Friday during my trip to Stillwater Cove on Sonoma County’s central coast. The first complex of fires to break out in Sonoma County (as well as Napa, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties) were sparked by a lovely but freaky overnight lightning storm in mid-August. Historically (before human-driven climate change), lightning in the summer doesn’t happen in coastal California. Nor does rain. This storm sparked lots of fires across our region which is always quite dry by this time in the year, since our rains typically all arrive between October and March.
Typically, our fires here in northern California don’t get serious until around October, but the many fires sparked by that August storm were all collectively named the “LNU Complex Fires” by CalFire, our wonderful state department of forestry and fire protection. The charred hills you see above are what’s left after the Meyers Fire, part of the LNU complex, which scorched a few thousand acres of mostly grassland on the hills right above the ocean, and which threatened a remarkable historic site at Fort Ross State Historic Park. (You can see a photo of its Russian-Orthodox Church at this link – https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2017/11/29/vulnerable-and-grateful/#jp-carousel-8316)
The shots below show some of what I saw in my immediate neighborhood on Monday the 28th of September, the morning after the Glass Fire opened a new front in Santa Rosa & Sonoma county last week. I never expected to need to learn the names of one wildfire after another, and honestly before 2017 I don’t think Sonoma County had seen terribly destructive wildfires for many years. Now it’s one after another – four fire complexes affecting SoCo in three years — and we can name them all. Friends who’ve lost homes are warned to evacuate again, and friends who were evacuated before are evacuated again. And yet public policy at the national level continues to be driven by denial of reality. It’s all quite distressing, and so one heads to the Redwoods to be reminded of the greater realities that surround us. (E.g., in case you haven’t already seen it, https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2020/10/03/if-i-were-a-redwood/) Since our corner of the world remains a blessed & beautiful place that I’m grateful to call home, I continue to take shots of the loveliness that surrounds me – at least when I can perceive it through the literal and figurative smoke. So you will also see me catching up with the always-present backlog of loveliness that my camera captures as I walk, bike or drive its paths, highways and byways :-). Thanks for your interest and your comments.
I’d be happy to grow tall in a steep canyon, where fog lingers in the morning to feed my needles, and a stream burbles in the rainy season to nourish my roots.
I’d be lucky to grow close to the ocean, whose summer fogs and winter warmth would help me grow taller and stronger.
I’d nurture a circle of friends to help me recover from fires.
I’d remember that most of us can survive a fire or two, if our roots are deep enough and our friends close around to support us.
I’d remember that life and death intertwine all around me.
I’d remember that when my seed germinated, the coast Miwok and Pomo still gathered fish, berries and nuts in my canyon, and no one had seen these tree-cutting Europeans yet.
I’d remember that fires, nations, governments and even diseases all have their time, while the seeds dropped by my ancestors created a forest that somehow has managed to remain.
Last Friday I stepped out my door, lurched down the stairs in my building, and went for a walk. Within the first 100 steps, I experienced new and strange emotional reactions to something so terribly simple as going for a walk down my block. I feared I’d fall, I feared a kid on a skateboard would bump into me or someone might beat me up, I feared a bicyclist might hit me or a dog might leap up and put its paws on my stomach. So many fears for one small person taking a simple walk down the block!
As I walked, I grew more familiar with my new limitations, aches and pains. I also slowly felt my envelope of of pain-free and reduced-fear activity expand ever so slightly. In the end, I walked more than a mile into downtown Santa Rosa and bought myself a ticket to the matinee of the new Blade Runner. (It’s very contemplative; so relieved in this ADHD-age someone is still doing slow & contemplative on the big screen.) And I probably grew a bit as a human through this process.
Seven days ago I had hernia-repair surgery. The walk, two days later, was the first time I’d been out and about on my own with my newly-sore, cut-open and compromised abdomen. Every movement I made (or tried to make) reminded me why we call this our ‘core’ – my abdomen came into play when I tried to blow my nose or sneeze; when I tried to walk faster to catch a traffic light so as to cross an intersection; any time I tried to roll over in bed or sit up or go to the toilet. It was a newly-humbling experience, to feel so very vulnerable. I’ve spent something like 1/5 of my life in places with poorer resources and support for the vulnerable and weak than right here, yet it’s here that I experienced one of my most jarring moments of fear and vulnerability.
A good reminder to take nothing for granted. This, for me, calls forth a response of gratitude & appreciation for all that I do have. Especially since I know my friends, colleagues & interlocutors in other settings don’t have many of these blessings and advantages. At the start of November, I spent a week being tour guide with the Forced From Home exhibit, in which I and other staff who’ve worked in field positions with MSF guide small groups around several stations depicting the realities of having to flee one’s home, and what one might encounter along the way. Before we opened, most of us tour guides seemed to agree that what we most hoped our groups would take away from the exhibit was an abiding sense of appreciation of what we do have. (Shout out to all the clinical colleagues who take care of me & keep me safe during my most vulnerable moments in the field, btw…)
(If curious, check out this article with a quote or two from me:
– I’ll have some more photos up from Oakland me doing the tour thing, at some point in coming weeks/months…)
That week guiding tour groups through the exhibit in Oakland was especially poignant for me, because my home city of Santa Rosa is still in the long and painful process of recovery from the wild fires. Like me, several local friends have commented that we are reluctant to drive (in my case, bike) around the most-affected zone – or take photos there. It feels almost voyeuristic, and possibly disrespectful of direct human pain and loss resident in those areas. My surgeon’s office is in one of the large buildings that survived the first, most destructive fires. A week before the operation, I biked the eight miles from home up to his office for my pre-op consultation. This post is mostly full of photos I took that day – along Redwood Highway north of downtown Santa Rosa. The burn-related photos were taken on November 14, five weeks after the first fires struck. At one main intersection (the photo just above), the buildings at three corners were destroyed while a gas station at the northwest corner stood, as did the construction site immediately west of it. This was all visible from the waiting room in my surgeon’s office. And I saw an unusual number of people who, like me, were standing to look out the windows from this higher vantage point, scanning the hills and taking stock.
The fires, like my surgery, remind me of my own vulnerability and human frailty. They also remind me of my many blessings, friends, gifts and joys. One of my best friends dropped me off & picked me up after surgery – he and his extended family also hosted me the following day for Thanksgiving surrounded by three generations of kids, parents & grandparents. (The photo just below is of a woozy-looking me with Howard, at my apartment after he brought me home.) My mother is recovering wonderfully well (knock wood) from her own, far more serious surgery. And I have fundamentally safe streets with sidewalks down which I can stroll, appreciating fall foliage and now all the displays of Christmas decorations going up, as I steadily rebuild my body’s strength and capacity in preparation for what I firmly expect will be an enjoyable end of year holiday season with friends and family. My Unitarian-Universalist congregation has focused on faith, this month: in what do we place our faith. I choose to have faith that the sun will continue to rise, that seeds will continue to sprout, and that it is always good to be kind and generous to those around us. Even if this makes me wildly crazy in the eyes of the pessimists among us, I find it simply so very much more enjoyable to be kind than not. I hope you’ll join me 😊. Peace.
Above, me on that vulnerable first walk after surgery and some of the red fall foliage that I’m so over-the-top in love with; below, Cardinal Newman HS athletic fields with a burned hillside behind. Below that, two photos from the Ft Ross area which I just happened to have on hand from a trip with another visiting friend a week or two earlier. For those who don’t know: Ft Ross is a totally cool state historic park documenting the southernmost imperial Russian presence on the west coast of North America; including this rebuilt Russian Orthodox church. SO cool.