Samhain/Dia de los Muertos/Hallowe’en. Home…safe: two of the best words in any language. Are there any more precious, especially to those without either or both?
The Kincade Fire, the largest in Sonoma County history, also forcing the county’s largest ever evacuation, is now largely contained. Evacuees have been trickling back home, the entire process made more traumatic by massive power outages. Ostensibly done to avoid power lines igniting fires in bone-dry landscapes, these also-historic blackouts could have been avoided if the utility had prioritized public safety and service over bonuses and shareholder profits, and done proper line maintenance and land management. Southern California has its own fire emergency situation, dire and growing.
Fire season now seems to last half the year, due to climate change. Unheard-of hurricane-force winds, drought, bark beetles that destroy weak trees and turn them into kindling, even rains make weeds grow higher and become fuel for the flames.
The dread at smelling (and tasting) smoke in the air, the anxiety of seeing embers or burnt leaves (or even something resembling these!), hearing sirens, phones blowing up with emergency alerts and evacuation orders…. All of these activate PTSD from the North Bay wildfires of 2017 and the Camp Fire in Paradise in 2018, remembering the terror of those who fled and got out alive, and the tragedy of those who didn’t. The stress alone of readying for possible power loss and evacuation – how little could you live on for extended periods? What would you take if you never saw your home again? Then there’s the matter of entirely losing your home, your loved ones.
What to do? Leave? Where, if anywhere, is safe? I’ve talked about this with friends: everywhere has its issues: wildfire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes. Or do you stay, accept what is, and work to change it for the better?
We are fortunate here in northern California to have resources like Pepperwood Preserve, where fire ecologists and climate scientists are on the forefront of fire research; Fibershed, building resilient communities that sustainably produce clothing; and the Laguna Foundation and the Permaculture Skills Center – both of whom help educate the public about landscaping and maintenance for fire and drought.
As in previous years, humans have proved resilient, pouring forth from all over in the spirit of generosity and volunteerism, opening their homes and offering donations of items and money, hard work and time. The Redwood Empire Food Bank, Undocufund, Corazon, Sonoma Family Meal, Daily Acts, and the Red Cross – as well as other local groups – have been amazing, and continue to accept donations and volunteers from those able to help.
This time of year, when we wind down the growing season, the veil between the worlds of living and dead is thinnest, and we hold especially close those we’ve lost. May we also hold close our dearest ones in this life! In preparing for the new year, each seed we plant – whether with a kind gesture or sowing in the earth – represents hope.