Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Angels and Fire

First the bear, then the fire.

It's been a very interesting end of summer and early autumn. Now the rosehips are red, and the maple leaves are turning chrome yellow. The smoke has settled down, the fires over the ridge have pretty much come under control, and for the moment, all is well.

When you live at the edge of some of the last great forests of the world, fire is a respected familiar. When I first moved here there was a huge fire towards the coast, sweeping down the hillsides to where the sea otters play and the bears go in the late winter. That fire came to a stop just above one of the small settlements. I recall talking to one of the old settlers. "Got to figure you're gonna be burnt out at least once around here, " he said. "If the fire scares you, if you can't take the floods, then you ain't got no business living round here."

Of course, I keep hoping I will escape the flames.

We've had close calls before. When my youngest was a baby fire started at the top of the hill, just a few acres away. We gathered what we thought totally precious: the children, the dogs, the cats, and..a couple of my journals, a folder full of photographs, my poetry, my favorite pen..and started the trek down the hill, with the airplanes buzzing above, and the waterbombs falling.

A much more benign sort of bombing than many of my friends through the world experience.

That fire stopped short of our woods. And the latest one, which began across the river from the house of one of my solitary, monkish friends who watches the young falcons in the cliffside sanctuary, whose little home is a small jewel along the waterside--that one came within a couple miles.

I had not realized it was quite so close, though the ashes were falling and the air was hard to breathe, until one of the volunteer firecrew showed me the map. "Here's your place" he said, pointing, and I agreed. "And here is the fireline".

I stared at him.

"Well, it was a ridge away still."

The falcons are okay, and none of the houses were burnt. It was odd to hear the official reports though "Uninhabited area, pure forest land, old growth trees, no structures to worry about".
Another very outspoken friend went to the guys who'd been flown in from all over the state and drew pictures on their maps: here, here, here, here: homesteads. People. Dogs, cats, chickens. A few horses, some donkeys.

And probably the bear, wandering about wondering why the forest was blazing.

Makes me think a lot about perspective. If you glance at the hills and mountains as you pass through my region, you would never see houses. You might think it all national forest, all untroubled save for..well, a handful of happy bears, perhaps.

What we see on the surface is not all there is. The clued in traveller may see the wisp of smoke rising from a cabin in early morning. Maybe a shimmer of light by evening.

Kind of makes me wonder what I overlook, what I am not seeing.

The other day a woman came in looking for books on angels. Well, not an uncommon request, and we had a stack, ranging from theological discourse to pretty little sentimental books with bad poetry and Victorian pictures in them. She told me she'd just been out in the mountains and had come across seven angels, and needed, therefore, to know a little more.

"I have photographs" she said, pulling out one of those fascinating tiny cameras that seem to be all the rage these days.

Paul looked first, murmured something, "oh, yes, wow". She pointed out Raphael. Oh, and that might be Jesus himself, though of course he's not an angel...

She showed me the pictures too. I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder: I saw a green forest with some white glowing shapes; could be the glare of the setting sun, filtered through the trees. To my eyes they were undifferentiated blobs, but who is to say that's not how angels appear?
I thought they were sunglare, myself, but thanked her for sharing.

"Now, what do you suppose I'm supposed to do?" she asked earnestly. "There must be some reason 7 angels came to me on the mountainside."

She's going to tell me when she figures it all out. And well, why not angels? Though for me, sunlight is pretty much a miracle as well, and fires that don't come visit us too closely.


Blogger David said...

I'm glad that the fire didn't come too close to your house!

I understand that many western forests have evolved to coexist with fire. I know, for example that the cones of some tree species will only open to release their seeds after experiencing the heat of a fire. However, during much of the last hundred years, there was a forest service policy of extinguishing all fires as soon as they were detected. This allowed great heaps of combustible materials to accumulate on the floors of many forests. So now, when a fire does occur, there is much more fuel, resulting in much larger and more intense fires. What is the condition of your forest floor? Has it been cleared of excess fuel? Does the forest service do any proscribed burning in your area? Just wondering.

Reading about the lady seeing the angels made me think of a song by John Denver for some reason. I don't remember the song very well, but I think he is singing about angels from Montgomery. I suppose it is a tribute to Civil Rights marchers in Alabama. Well, that was a bit tangential! ;)

11:18 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

The wry person in me wonders if she really saw the ghost of Euclid, radiant with 7 angles...

Am glad you've not been singed. Lived in Flagstaff once upon a while, and every so often the mountains would catch fire and glow like immense embers at night.

7:18 AM, October 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What we see on the surface is not all there is. The clued in traveller may see the wisp of smoke rising from a cabin in early morning. Maybe a shimmer of light by evening.

Such a beautiful post. The sweep of destruction, mindless, yet seeming to have a plan.

I wonder too what's below the surface, whether it's the quiet passage of a bear, a unique turn of light, or even seven angels keep their own secrets.

6:15 AM, October 16, 2006  
Blogger jac said...

That was a delicious story about the woman and the seven angels !!
I am here to say too, that I am back again reading you.

You know why?

I too like nature. LOL
and it also means that I like your writing.

8:34 AM, October 16, 2006  
Anonymous marly said...

Hmm. I was quite, quite positive that I'd left a longish note. Blogger does not love me.

Come visit me, and you'll find that I have inflicted a meme on you--you can blame Clare Dudman!

7:24 AM, October 23, 2006  
Anonymous chitty said...

Fires can be devastating, but in some ecologies fire plays an important role when the ecosystem and the soil has limited nutrients. It is most efficient for plants to produce many seeds and then die in the next fire. The one that comes to mind is the Fynbos
Shrublands, a World Heritage Site, that grow on the slopes of Table Mountain in South Africa.
Love the post... you have such a wonderful way with words.

1:15 AM, October 26, 2006  
Blogger Nyx said...

With the risk of being considered a loony, I have to tell you that I too have seen strange things... It's important to remember that we know so little about how our brains work, that we shouldn't be too judgmental towards what we see. Sure, we should ask "what", "how" and "why", but maybe we need to accept that we sometimes don't have an answer.
Chittys comment on the need of fire truly gives perspective. I too loved this post - as always :-)

12:01 AM, October 28, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

ah well, Nyx, I too have seen strange things. It is probably why I am able to talk with people who have seen angels (or angles, who knows?). And yes, david and chitty, you are right, the fires do renew the forest; there are indeed plants that depend upon them to sprout again. Only they are a bit frightening too close at hand! And lori, Jason, jac--thank you so for stopping by.

8:27 PM, October 31, 2006  

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