Saturday, July 5, 2008

In the Eye of the Storm

"Sanctuary," Charles Laughton called out sonorously from the bell tower of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a rescued gypsy woman in his arms. This scene in the 1939 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, recalls to me our home-spun cathedral, sitting empty on Partington Ridge, the activity of each day turning peacefully around it. What does the light in my bedroom look like now? Do the fruit trees need watering? How are the koi in the pond faring? Is the young rooster crowing down below, released from his coop in the forest? Is the crystal hanging in the window splashing rainbows across the living room?

I am so lucky to be able to imagine know that our house still stands, the backburns below and to the south of the ridge seem to have worked (we have no official word, but are hoping). We're all so disoriented, still and quiet in the eye of our personal storms.

Manufactured psychodramas feel minor as we call for relief checks, apply for unemployment, figure out where to stay for these next few weeks (expected end of the Basin Complex fire is July 30.) Those with emergency tasks of a tactical or administrative nature are better off than those of us spinning in the un-burned world. Those hardy souls who have stayed in Big Sur are frustrated by insufficient response to structure protection, and now, shamefully, martial law: leave the borders of your property and the Monterey Sheriff will arrest you. IN FACT, THIS HAS HAPPENED, HOMEOWNERS ARE BEING ARRESTED AT GUNPOINT FOR DEFENDING THEIR HOMES. SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING A COMMUNITY THAT IS UNDER SIEGE.

Back in Soquel, morning sunlight streams through the French doors of our friends' Zen-like vacation rental. Birds twitter overhead, traffic creates white noise. Today is my birthday, of all things. I can barely notice. There's a Cassandra element in this for me, as I lost my home in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. I treasure that I have my pets with me (I lost them then) and I have the luxury of regretting silly things like not taking my nail kit when I packed up to leave the approaching fire (no chance to do that last time.)

My poor dog is so tired of getting in and out of the car, that yesterday he gave me this direct gaze, as if to say, "Are we going home now? Are we, huh?" It was a bittersweet relief to see the contentment evident in every hair of his furry body when we finally reached the beach– nose up, eyes closed, the fresh ocean breeze washing over him.

Refugee behavior? I've noticed that at this stage we sleep a lot, and take bits of contentment and savor them like sucking free candies. Everything is in relief. I see things I don't usually see, and feel everything more intensely: the curly starfish on an altar, the soft sand around my ankles on the beach, the large hazel, tear-filled eyes of my sweet neighbor, bunked down with me in Lisananda's Retreat Center (what we're calling our Good Samaritan, former Big Sur girl's lovely Seaside home).

We spent a night in another friend's Victorian home, feeling the weight of the draperies and evocative art on the walls cocooning us quietly for a few hours of solitude. We've drank champagne and raised toasts to Toby, to Big Sur, to friendship. We've soaked in a hot tub, been fed home-made tamales in a claw foot tub, been cuddled and loved. Toby rode the roller coaster on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (not me.) For me, Life is a big scary ride, who needs the roller coaster? I rode the bumper cars instead, all of us laughing like the goofy little kids we really are.

All I can do is pray, that someday soon now, I will sleep in the moonlight again, back home on Partington Ridge.
Sign on our road
Kip at Christmas
Lisananda and I in happier times
Moonlit bed


Anonymous said...


The man in the moon
Has become homeless;
Rain clouded night
-- Matsuo Bashô

Sanctuary… a consecrated area, a place of safety. Thankfully you’ve found a bit of respite in the face of such a tempestuous rift. Thankfully this too shall pass.

An awful tempest mashed the air,
The clouds were gaunt and few;
A black, as of a spectre’s cloak,
Hid heaven and earth from view.

The creatures chuckled on the roofs
And whistled in the air,
And shook their fists and gnashed their teeth,
And swung their frenzied hair.

The morning lit, the birds arose;
The monster’s faded eyes
Turned slowly to his native coast,
And peace was Paradise!
-- Emily dickinson

For some reason Federico García Lorca’s Árboles came to mind.

¿Habéis sido flechas caídas del azul?
¿Qué terribles guerreros os lanzaron?
¿Han sido las estrellas?

Vuestras músicas vienen del alma de los pájaros,
de los ojos de Dios,
de la pasión perfecta.
¿Conocerán vuestras raíces toscas mi corazón en tierra?
-- Federico García Lorca, 1919

Thank you for your communication via the blog. With all the information swirling around (Google Earth, TV, and numerous other blogs) it’s so helpful to read your thoughts. So much of what is reported is devoid of humanity, quasi-scientific (e.g., structures vs. homes, etc.). You remind us there are lives in the balance by bringing the reality of the human experience, in particular … yours.

Do take care. How are the Hawthorne’s doing? I heard from Greg last Monday and have only the various media to keep a watchful eye.

BTW: in my haste in my last message I erred mightily and should have said, “Big Sur am beth!”

There’s only one direction…

onward…john (new)

jeff said...

Our prayers are with you Linda and Toby. I am an old friend of Toby's and was a firefighter on the Marble Cone fire in the 70's, so I can relate to what this fire means to your community.

Jeff Thatcher

Anonymous said...

Dear Linda,

Two steps removed from the big, long hug I would rather give you in person, I'm here in your comment section to say hello and wish you a blessed, belated birthday greeting.

It must seem like your annual day has not even happened, and that might be something like shock or suspended (dis)belief that all things are (im)possible.

You've been through something like this before, but I'm hoping that your return to your ridge home will prove refreshingly different from the last fire-caused relocation. That may be your rebirthday!

The smoke is clearing here in the foothills, but it lingers in my lungs and eyes. We drove four hours of gravel roads through the deep woods to Almanor last Saturday, only to find it smokier than Chico (sigh). Now it's 110 degrees and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.... (maybe barefoot ain't so bad?).

We wish you peace in the arms/homes of your nearby friends, until you and Toby and Kip can return to Partington.

L'amour, toujour l'amour,
Dan & Nancy & Herbie & Harley