Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fire relief, Big Sur style

Some of what I'm hearing from my neighbors and friends these days:

"I'm home. It looks the same, but everything is different."
"My attention span has evaporated. I can't relax completely, can't even distract myself with a book or a movie."
"I have fire dreams."
"It feels like we're in a time warp, living a dream."

Or maybe like a movie, when at the end, we realize the heroine has been dead all along, and we've just watched a flashback of her life's last moments. Living in Big Sur is dream-like anyway. We constantly pinch ourselves at our good luck in being here. To think that really, Big Sur is gone, and we're only playing out her idealized survival in our minds, is just too eerie. This ghoulish thought fades away though, as I see the ferns growing back, already, in the ashes. Renewal!

One thing I think many of us feel now, is a kind of nostalgia for the present moment. I thought the possibility of a certain experience was gone forever, and here I am living it again. For example, listening to my neighbor's enormous orange rooster, Harold, crow throughout the day from his coop in the redwood forest below us. Miraculously, he and his sister hens survived, let loose in the forest during the 2 1/2 weeks of mandatory evacuation. Or simply sitting and looking at the ocean, hearing the crickets, feeling the warm summer breeze.

Last weekend, a local couple brought a free meditation weekend workshop to the Big Sur community, at the Big Sur Lodge, led by the folks at the Art of Living Foundation. It was well-attended and very rewarding, according to friends who participated. I almost went, but stayed home to record the minutes of the ridge's annual homeowners' meeting, an exhaustive post-fire debrief. We also painted the entire inside of my house very bright colors, which helped too. It's easy to be cheery in a house with walls of celadon, pumpkin and turquoise.

As I looked at the delicate Peruvian lilies in my kitchen sink Saturday morning, trimming them up and putting them into a vase, I remembered learning about flowers from a book I bought at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden after my house burned down in 1991: The Clover and the Bee, a Book of Pollination.

Quite the naughty title, I remember thinking. I read it thoroughly and centered myself, coming to earth again as I looked at the precise drawings of pistils, stamens, stigmas, corollas, petals and sepals. Not to mention the glorious, moist anther! This morning I inspect each flower's nectar guides, little landing strips for pollinators. It's all about da birds and da bees, I mused. Even flowers advertise sex. Eat here! Pollinate me!

There's nothing like a children's book if you want to learn something new, perhaps something you wished you'd learned as a child. The presentation, the language, the use of illustration, in this case, impeccable, by the "grandmother of contemporary botanical artists", Anne Ophelia Dowden. These books are all geared for the openness of a child's mind. Ideally this is how we all can learn, throughout life, approaching learning like play.

Taking a breath, pausing to really observe something simple, brings my soul into focus. This process helps me trust life. If I can savor each moment, then the terrors around the corner just aren't that bad.

And support, like renewal, abounds: If you'd like to help our community as it faces the rock and landslides to come this winter, you may want to attend the Big Sur Fire Relief Gala Benefit on Saturday August 9, at the Monterey Conference Center. Or make a donation! Funds will go to the Big Sur Fire Relief Fund, the Big Sur and Mid Coast Volunteer Fire Brigades, the Big Sur Fire Management Planning Process, and the rebuilding and restoration process.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know what loves to grow in ashes after a fire? MORELS!

next spring should be a big fruiting season, and you might even get some this year if spores blow your way.

spores, fruiting,! Your house sounds lovely.