So... yeah, it's been a while. Life is busy and I've felt the pull in directions other than the computer. On this particular evening, however, I feel compelled to write here. I think it's because I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around something that is happening so close to my own back yard. Danger in my stomping grounds. And when mind benders prevail, I write. Usually with pen and ink in my paper journal, but tonight I'll write here instead.
I'm sure many folks are aware that our region of the country (the pacific northwest) has been having a crazy drought this summer. Record high temps all summer. No rain. And I mean NO rain. None to speak of since I don't even know when... April maybe? My animals are "grazing" on dried up, burnt out, brown, dormant, sizzled up pasture. Plants that I have never ever seen show any sign of stress are shriveled up and laying limp on the ground. The usually damp, springy rain forest floor crunches in dry gasps beneath my footfalls.
And when the rain forest dries out, what's to stop a tiny little spark? Nothing. And so it is that the mountains and valleys and forests I love are burning. We are living in a tinderbox. It is terrifying. It's funny... living here, the things people have asked me if I'm worried about - earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, etc - and I've never felt anxious about any of them. This fire danger though. This is something that has my full attention, my hair raised, and my bags and photo albums packed by the front door. The danger is so very real, so tangible.
Many days over these last many weeks it has looked like sunset all day long. The light remains golden orange from sunrise to sunset as smoke hangs in the air from fires burning as close as a few miles away, and sometimes from the huge complex fires on the other side of the mountains depending on which way the wind is blowing. It's absolutely crazy. And each day that we make our way through the hazy firelight we wonder... where is it coming from this time? Is it close? Are people safe? Are animals safe? Do we need to prepare to move quickly? And my heart aches when I think of those people and animals who are not safe.
And it happens so quickly. Again, when there's been no rain, on the heels of a winter with no snow, what's to stop a little spark?
Yesterday was another hot one. Not as hot as it's been, but a good 86 degrees or so and humid. After a morning of harvesting tomatoes and string beans and weeding the hoop house in the heat, I decided to head to the river with the kids to cool off for a couple of hours. Sequoia, Jade and I loaded up the basket with snacks and water bottles, shoved it in among bales of alfalfa in the back of the truck and headed for our closest and favorite swimming hole.
We waded around, climbed logs, skipped rocks, watched young salmon nibble at our ankles, picnicked on the rocks and dreamed of the river being full enough to actually swim in as it is in normal years. Jade gleefully chased after falling leaves as the breeze picked up in the late afternoon. He squealed in delight as the wind whipped his hair around and sent yellow leaves swirling down into the mild current of the lazy bend in the river. He was so sad to bring his game to a close when I realized it was getting late and we needed to get heading home. But, he quickly acknowledged with a smile on his face that we could come back in a few days to play again, and next time remember the net to catch more leaves.
As we drove out of the valley, we stopped at the best spots - by the field that has so many sunflowers, at the spot where they are rebuilding the bridge that washes out every winter when the river floods so that Jade could look at the big crane truck, at the field where the llamas live so we could giggle at their funny expressions and, of course, by the biggest cow pasture which is currently home to the cutest and most curious calves who are just old enough to stray a bit from their mothers to say hello at the fence. All three of us were happy. The evening was warm, the sunlight golden and beginning to slide sideways across the valley, the breeze picking up and keeping us cool. It really felt so incredibly 'just right'.
As I was crawling into bed last night, content from a good day of hard work followed by what I could only describe as a perfect afternoon in one of my favorite places, Steve informed me that the valley was on fire. My heart broke right then and there. I had that moment of pain in my chest that burns and stabs simultaneously, my breath catching in my throat and my extremities going a weird cold and tingly. The beautiful, powerful, magical valley I had just been in a couple of hours before (not to mention the day before that, and the hundreds of times before that) was burning.
There have been many fires close to us this summer. Two of them have been less than two miles from here. Several more, less than ten. But there is just something about that valley burning. I love that place so much. I sat on the banks of the river yesterday, slipping smooth rocks between my fingers, smelling the fragrance of cottonwood resin in the air, feeling the warm, late summer wind on my face and the sun on my back, and thought to myself many times how magical that place is. It is medicine to me. It truly heals me to be there. Whether it's the physical medicine from the plants and trees that grow along the banks, or the song of the river, or the whispers of the mountains that rise from the valley, or the spirits of the people and animals that have come and gone long before me... that place is my medicine. And my heart is on fire along with the forest that burns.
I wish for rain. I wish for safety. I wish for healing. I wish for Jade to catch leaves floating on the current again soon.