As I write this on early Sunday afternoon, Kip sits beside me in the corner booth at Fernwood (which has Wi-Fi, bless them.) I've just seen an enormous plume of smoke above Mt. Manuel, behind Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Palo Colorado Road is under voluntary evacuation. What follows are a few thoughts, and some pictures (courtesy of fire-fighter, pig-rescuer, and intrepid photographer Toby Rowland-Jones.)
I have seen no better depiction of Mama Big Sur, ever. Here she is, yoni open, streaming her charge into the ocean, intent on her healing work. Purify the forest, blast the mountains, give us all a big, beautiful shock. Swirling blue ripples of energy, out and around and down into our core. From her soul, her center, to ours.
Empress Sula’s polarization— energetic charge and wild destruction combined in one perfect storm. And it is Sula who encourages me to make a run for it down to my house from the Big Sur Valley, coaching me how to talk my way past the sheriff’s roadblock. “Don’t be afraid, be clear and strong. And don’t be coquettish,” she admonishes. I tell the cop the truth: “My husband is fighting the fire on Partington Ridge. I’m going up to get my dogs and get out.” He says, simply, “OK” and waves me on. Shit, now I’m in for it, I think.
Rocks fall as I drive beyond Grimes Point, where the sheer rock face was dynamited to make the highway so many decades ago. Burning stones come tumbling down, loosened by roots that have released their grip, seared away after years of holding the cliff together.
Up at the house I make a mad dash for those few things I’ve thought about (wedding dress, extra photo books, laptop) and those things guaranteed to comfort me when I’m away (fluffy bathrobe, lingerie, love letters.) I work fast, and have time in that 90 minute window to say my prayers to Quan Yin, gazing peacefully over the pond and smiling dreamily by the bathtub. “Save this house, Great Mother, and I promise to believe, always, in Love.” Which I will do anyway, I realize, as the words leave my lips.
Cold beer in hand, I collapse briefly in the blue Adirondack chair, looking down the green swale of the lawn to the sea. A breath, a sip, a moment. Then I hear the forest service trucks and Toby arriving. With another handful of belongings I head towards my car, grabbing the SF Giants baseball cap on the way out the door. I hold it up to show Toby as he comes down the path in his “yellows”, the fire-fighter’s uniform, “Go Giants!” I deadpan, ashes falling around us. I get a brilliant smile from him instead of a scowl, since I am up here against his explicit orders.
I remember 89 year old Bob Nash responding to Toby calling us up to come watch the sunset, “Orders from Headquarters” he said. This makes me chuckle inside on this incredibly tense afternoon. Bob, the cosmic linchpin, who lived on this property for 35 years and was never touched this closely by fire. He held it all in balance with his mystical power.
Silver lining so far: Time spent with neighbors, over meals, wine and games. Conversations about what we treasure and fear, enthusiastic willingness, shared peaceful moments, laughter over the prosaic, embraces that comfort grief, this is what it's all about: authentic community, being in the inescapable moment, together.
How else would I know how my friends make their coffee in the morning? How they play cards with their son, how they cook turkey and gently sweep crumbs off the dining table? How they like a nip of scotch in a crystal tumbler or perhaps a glass of wine while knitting socks? The things we discover when we spend time together, time living, not time entertaining, but being. These are windows into who we are, an intimacy which is priceless to me.
Driving down Partington Ridge that Sunday evening, I see the unspeakable: three giant ridges, Graves, Castro and Grimes, on fire. Huge banners of smoke trailing out from each mountain, like three volcanoes in a row. The air thick, heavy with smoke, the sky gray, tinged with pink. The ocean slate blue, reflecting this nightmare that is not a dream.
"Welcome back to the fight." says Captain Renault to Rick in the final moments of Casablanca, "This time, I know we'll win." There is no greater love than to put your life on the line for a person, a cause, a place. Here all three converge: a community of souls that are spiritually fed by reverence for this land. Hiraeth, the Welsh call it, a longing for the land.
Next: Rebuilding the Shire...