Sunday, July 31, 2016

Watching God

As I write this on Sunday afternoon here on the lawn, tendrils of fog float out over the sea. A spotter plane soars above, moving northwest, looking for sparks from the Soberanes fire, blazing about five miles away from us. Hooray spotter plane! It soars up and down the coast non-stop now, a comforting part of the enormous effort to control the wildfire which blasted into our world last week, changing lives forever.

White, with a bright orange stripe below its wings, the plane reminds me of the mango colored koi in my pond. What will happen to the koi should a fire come? Last time the firefighters took the time to refill the pond and saved them. The fishes’ element is water, so they are presumably safe beneath its cool, glassy surface. Our elements are earth and air, elements we pray will cooperate in keeping our homes safe.

Topography, wind, heat and water are all concerns as we move forward into the projected next few weeks of the 37,000 acre (and growing) inferno, so far burning slowly south and east into the Ventana Wilderness. Hooray also for the bulldozer drivers building a fire-break on the Coast Ridge Road! As oblivious tourists slip by in a steady stream on the  highway, dozer drivers move up nearby Torre Canyon to burrow great lanes of dirt that will keep the flames away.

Two days ago I wore a carpenters’ mask to clear my lungs of smoke. Unable to breathe, my impulse instead was to worry, throw away useless stuff (so much of it!) and take naps between gasps. Yesterday we weed-whacked the expansive meadow beside the house and moved underbrush out of the canopy of the forest. We've also hooked up hoses to fire hydrants, drawn maps, and stored valuables in town. The house has a Zen look, missing many works by local artists I’ve acquired over the past two decades.

How we love our firefighters and those who follow them! They are Earth-wise heroes who do the opposite of what normal humans do in fires. While we may hold the line as long as possible and then run to relative safety, they move towards danger, feel the heat, and outwit the flames. 

We've stocked the fridge with beer and bottled water should firefighters appear, but today I surrender and drink a pale ale as I make calls to see how my neighbors are faring. The talk is all of bulldozer lines, back burns (one scheduled for tomorrow 3 miles north of us, please cross your fingers) water tanks, hoses, who’s staying stoic (or not) and that ideal constellation of variables known as defensible space. 

It’s a “praise the lord and pass the ammo” moment. We pray to our many gods, pagan and otherwise, as the sound of weed-whackers and chainsaws fill the air. I water prodigiously, soak flowerbeds and lawns, mulch piles of leaves, then place flowers on the statue of Naga, Hindu Goddess of the Spring.  In the universal tradition, I light a candle each night before Blessed Mother Mary, and each morning I chant Sat Nam, visualizing protection from cold, flowing, sacred rivers.

Last night I read aloud a passage from a favorite novel to my husband. Facing a disaster (this one a hurricane in Florida in the 1930’s) the characters, trapped by circumstances and unable to flee, wait in their shacks in the Everglades as the massive storm approaches. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

We watch God here in Big Sur too, imprinting singular moments onto our souls.  When fire comes, and loss looms nearby, this spiritual practice is indescribably poignant.

Today the air is cool, yet each suspicious blast of wind brings dread. A momentary sirocco makes the neighborhood hawks circle and swoop, upsetting a family of woodpeckers wearing flashy red berets. They nod their heads and cackle thanks as I inadvertently spook the perched raptor out of the oak tree. A red-shouldered hawk, swift and sturdy, harlequin checkerboard of wings and pivoting tail.

This afternoon, shadows of the spreading elm tree's graceful branches dance across the carpet of springy grass. My dog pants beside me, begging me to throw his ever-present pine cone. My Siamese cat comes by meowing and demands a cuddle. All these living beings seem blissfully unaware of the danger possibly headed our way.

The sea, our ancient mother, is calm today. Gentle, rippling swells move south along the land’s edge. Hundreds of annoying insects, typical of the season, buzz by. Wind chimes ring peacefully from a corner of the garden as my bare feet relax, tickled by the warm grass, a moment of peace...

Cal Fire's plane flies overhead once more, engines whining as it heads southeast. The leaves of the trees sigh in the wind. Just now, a large flame-colored monarch butterfly swirls up and down, back and forth, against a backdrop of indigo sea, surfing invisible currents before my eyes.