The Return after the Fire
I fly to San Francisco as I have done so many times before. I have bought "The Turn of the Screw" for entertainment on the flight and as we approach theother coast, as I finish the book, I begin to get glimmerings and awakenings of the loss. I have pictured my loss from afar. The reality is coming closer. It is like waking in the morning to the nightmare, instead of leaving it behind in the depths of the unconscious, relieved at its ephemeral quality and gladened by the ordinariness of the day, one awakes to the nightmare of reality.
The mind states of the many trips to my place varied. But always after arriving, unloading the car, fixing the power system, getting in the wood, whatever the many tasks and chores that had to be done, always, it felt like home. A place safe where I could relax, where all was well, the hurly burly left behinnd, and quiet prevailed--beauty before me, beauty behind me beauty all around me, like that Navajo prayer. The woods absorbed my travel tired psyche and left me free.
Some times we came as a family. My daughter had her song "First comes McCumber's, then comes John Philon's as she named the places we passed on our long way home. Or sometimes she sang,, "Don't grow in the road trees, we are coming through." We had a joke as we come down the driveway, "There and back again, a hobbit's holiday" There was something very hobbit like about the cabin and our life there when we were the "happy family", certainly not mainstream reality.
In later years, I came alone, often with some anxiety about how things would be. I was afraid of incursions by neighbors cows, by four tracks, by hunters, by the road crews tendency to cut the trees along the road, by the desire of many people to have a bigger better town with more people, jobs, better roads. I came to my place anxious, knowing my powerlessness to stop civilization, like the eunich in Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers, whose first question was always "Is everything all right in the house?" So I took comfort in the constancy of the forest, its' slow growth, its inevitable seasonal change. And I was reassured that nature had its rhythm and that it was something I could trust.
What to say? As we drove in in the dusk, and reached where the fire had burned, it didn't seem so bad, but as we drove on slowly, taking it in, the land was more and more scorched, the trees blackened and finally as we head over the hill and down into the draw where my cabin was, the ground is grey ash on which the bare limbed black firs stand starkly sillohueted, and it is just as bad as one could have imagined.
As James said, it looks like Mordor
When we arrived, I got out of the car and gazed in amazement, laughed, even. I could only be amazed at how much damage was done. How it had burned right up to the green grass I call my yard. I just walked around saying 'unfucking believable". All the familiar places that surround the cabin and the yard were, quite simply, gone--transformed by fire into ash and charcoal.
Wil had house all clean and flowers picked in vase and helped us unload the car. Rena started cooking and night mercifully fell. After several glasses of wine, going upstairs to bed still felt like homecoming.
The days passed quickly. I only had a week. There was a host of visitors who came to pay their respects. They brought food and drink. They sat and talked with each other. I joined in or sat staring, or broke down in sobs. It was like a wake and it was done in the old country fashion.
the best friends are the friends who let you have your feelings. My women friends came. I felt such support and love that still the gratitude makes tears flow as I think of it. They cooked, the gossiped, they argued and laughed and drank--they hugged me or left me alone and as we sat in the circle around the table in the front yard, it was as if nothing had changed. We told our stories and listened to the saga of each life unfolding. Nothing seemed different. John Ann remarked one night, "This is just like always. Except for the faint smell of wood smoke." Only when the eyes gazed out of the circle into the distance, themountains, the hills the far meadow, then it burst first on the retina, then into consciousness GONE the woodsy nest of wildness that surrounded us, nurtured and sustained us. Katherine said it was like the death of a
spouse--40 years of love and aggravation--which sums it up for me and made me feel lighter because I didn't have to feel bad about feeling so broken up about it
All the decisions which were necessary came one after the other in a blur of blah, blah, blah information.
The trees are now a fire hazard--how's that for irony!!! So there were foresters and logging contractors and PGE men trying to negotiate deals. I could hardly listen, had to have things repeated, had to ask afterwards what was said.
We had to walk around marking trees to take. There is a kind of beauty in it. The slate is wiped clean and everything in grey, ash and black. And then !surprise! a few very lemon green shoots coming up. The oak in the front yard has sprouted out about 6 inches of new greenery just to show it's not daunted by disaster. The trailer is gone--that's the one upside. It was literal rats nest. Allan called it the Hanta Virus incubator. I put it down there years ago as a place where I would go to write. Never once used. It had been slowing falling apart for years and was a blight and now metal chassis is all that remains. the big madrone with the hole in it up on the road is gone. The oak tree in the big meadow is putting out new shoots, the big madrone behind the tool shed, burned, its fate as well as many other madrones and oaks, unknown until a winter and spring happen. Even if the fire didn't get them, the heat dried the leaves, making it impossible for them to breathe and so killing them.
I was wrong when I said this is different than the road going out, the Big Slide, the floods. It is the same process. Change on a large scale. I have been known to whoop and holler at the power of land movement, or flooding river. This time it wiped me out. It was never mine, but I loved it as a lover, as a womb from which I emerged now then to buy and sell and bargain and meet and be met and always to return there to weigh what had happened, evaluate and store or forget it, to renew myself in a dream of lush green.
I walked down to the Grapevine Cathedral and Big Oak circle before I left. Grapevines are all gone, but I hope they will come back from the roots. THe Big Oak is scorched and the leaves all brown. But sitting in the blackened roots
of the tree is the little Buddha I put there, slightly browned by heat, but unperturbed by circumstance. A reminder that there is a place inside that is unperturbed--obscure though it is in grief. Wil and I marked that circle with the huge fir which is its partner as No Entry to the loggers. We marked every tree with any green on it as a save.