From a metaphysical perspective (because you know, California Girl here), I can't help but point out that this has been the year of the Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology. Our political landscape has been savage, a seemingly careless burn of civil rights and decency. Many things I held as sacred in our nation have gone to ashes. It is hard to look destruction in the face and find some wisdom to it. Hard to watch things burn and convince yourself something new will grow. But I'm told that this is the principle nature works on, that fires are necessary periodically to the health of a forest. Dead wood and plants go to ashes, the nutrients able to go back into the soil and help new vegetation grow.
But that did not make me feel better when Ventura, parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, Montecito, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria all experienced sudden fires. A firefighter with a growing family lost his life in the Thomas Fire; people's homes and art and photographs and precious evidence of their lives all burned. Trees, animals, even our palm trees lining the beach side of the 101, all scorched. When it is over, the Thomas Fire will be one of the largest fires in California history. It is not done burning yet. We in Santa Barbara are waiting to see what the Santa Ana winds do tomorrow, when they're projected to pick up again. I cannot imagine fighting a fire, much less doing so in 60 MPH winds.
So, I spent two weeks watching a lot of ashes fall, wearing an N95 mask, nervously glancing up at a sun made red in a grey sky. I looked around my room, thinking, what can I not live without? What needs to be packed, just in case? The childhood Christmas ornaments came off the tree, packed into a box by the door. Things you might expect, like the box of photographs, the paintings, the passport, the taxes. And some things that make sense only to me. The scarf I bought in Paris for $5 when I was 28, the water bottle with a king-tut cat on it...because I *need* that! My crochet hooks and four balls of yarn. My money plant. My NFL Patriots nutcracker (yes, it's a thing, and yes I do believe that my putting it up during football season helps the Patriots win). I am not sure if I am pleased or abashed that the most important things in my life can fit into an economy rent-a-car from Dollar Budget. But they can and they did, as my neighborhood went into voluntary evacuation this weekend.
It is often said as a frosting statement that it is our human and animal friends and family that matter, that as long as we all come through alive, the things don't matter that much. But it's not frosting, it's truth. As I was looking around my room, packing, what I was most concerned about were all of my family and friends and animal buddies in evacuation. I thought of people I haven't talked to in a long time, people with horses stabled in the hills, people who might not have cars or the means to leave Santa Barbara, I thought about the homeless people on State Street with their dogs, the people on the bus who either couldn't afford masks or weren't aware they should be wearing them. It is in moments of disaster that we suddenly evaluate our community in less selfish terms, that we realize how vulnerable we are, how much we need one another.
Evacuating, driving down the 101, my two cats riding shotgun, flooring it past a tidal wave of smoke coming from the mountains, my heart sore at the sight of so much destroyed landscape, what I felt in equal measure was adrenaline and gratitude. Adrenaline for obvious reasons. Fire is scary. Gratitude for those friends and family who made it so clear to me that I had a ride if I needed one, and a sofa to sleep on if I needed one, and the sense that no matter what happens with the Thomas Fire, we will find a way to put ourselves back together. Especially grateful that family in L.A. made room for me and my cats and welcomed me, oh, 8 days early for Christmas. Grateful for fresh air. Grateful for green trees and flowers. Grateful for safe haven. Because not everyone finds that when they need it.
Sitting now from a safe distance in Los Angeles, aware that for those who lose their houses, this fire is a literal meditation on destruction, I ask myself, what in my personal life has gone to ashes, what in this country has gone to ashes? What might spring from those ashes, phoenix-like, with directed enough vision? I take heart from the fact that the year of the Fire Rooster will be done in February, that the coming year is the year of the Earth Dog. Earth dog. I like the sound of that.