Sunday, August 21, 2016

Alchemical Fire

And so it begins, I thought this past Monday as I woke to the chop-chop-chop of helicopters flying low in the early morning sky.

Then, at 9am someone flipped a switch somewhere and the power went dead. Good thing we'd checked with bloggers and to know the first back burn in our corner of the Soberanes fire was officially in progress.

The magical marine layer just off the ridge was the view downhill from the flames behind me, a comforting contrast.
"We breathe smoke and eat dirt" report the firefighters. We learned this from the fireman who drew sentry duty on the ridge one night, a welcome break from the Coast Ridge fire line. To keep him company he met a very special dog, who loves men in yellow uniforms, especially when they don't mind tossing the ball.

It's part of living on the coast, this crazy hopefully just once-a- decade ballet of fire, fire-fighters, equipment and community. Everything fuses in the crucible of adventure.

Forget about sleeping well, or pursuing any normal activities with single-mindedness. We are sensing each breeze, analyzing each column of smoke, studying topo maps and Google earth until we're bleary-eyed. We assertively inform each new batch of firefighters about our water tanks and hydrants, our clearance concerns and exit plans, if we have them.

But, because this is Big Sur, we count our blessings to be on this roller-coaster ride in a war zone.

On the southwest flank of the fire, we are lucky. Emoticons of four leaf clovers everywhere. We've had time to prepare in all kinds of ways. What we've waited for almost a month is now here, the  dreaded and welcomed back-burns. If all goes well, fire will meet fire in the canyon behind us and move far, far away...

The valiant fire crews, mostly rural people, are even greater heroes now as some have family near the Cedar Fire and other blazes across the state. Can you say "climate change"? I have it firsthand from the elder firemen, leading their young crews like gentle bull-elks, that yes, we have always had fire and yes, these monster fires are happening more frequently. Now unfortunately firefighting (along with yoga and cannabis) is a growth industry in California.

In times of stress, our usual distractions do not work to keep us out of the difficult present. Even the habits that we most enjoy fall by the wayside as we are given the opportunity to practice alchemy. We can make what is painful powerful, through a kind of active surrender. As the old song says, Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡, baby. The golden glow of the present moment is always with us, even as we wait for what will come.