I was 6 or 7 years old when the fire started. Something ignited in the back of an El Camino or maybe it was a pick-up truck. My 7-year old mind didn’t hold on to such details. But I do remember that the fire started in the bed of this vehicle. I remember voices screaming about the full tank of gas and the gas can in the bed of the truck. I remember having to put a coat on over my pajamas. But the thing I remember the most was that I was sick. Puking sick.
The first lesson my 7-year old self learned: don’t live in a house with only one door. Because what I remember next is that when the fire started we escaped the house by going toward the fire. As I was shuttled to the backyard for cover, I remember the way the flames undulated and licked the trees. Everyone was praying that the fire department might arrive before the trees caught fire. At that time and for many years after, our town had only a volunteer-based fire station and many of them lived in surrounding towns, not in our town. Even though the fire station was a few blocks away, the firefighters were not there and were being dispatched from their homes. Meanwhile time stopped while the fire burned.
Important detail. I grew up in the small town that made national news in 2016 by being desperately threatened and evacuated during the Blue Cut Fire. It burned more than 36,000 acres, destroying 105 homes and 213 outbuildings. Hundreds of fires consume the landscape every year.
Wildfires are a terrifying, natural part of that landscape.
So here we are in the middle of the San Bernardino/Angeles National Forests with a truck on fire in the front yard. My next lesson is that fire is a wild consuming dragon that can zip out of control. Fire runs up and down mountainsides scorching everything in its path. Fire is fast and indifferent. Fire is ravenous and greedy.
And yet, fire is life.
Fire is warm, energetic, and passionate. Fire is communication, zipping through our phones and computers. Fire is in our bodies, enlivening our nervous systems, allowing our muscles to move, and when fire gets blocked it leads to inflammation and disease. With fire comes great risk, death, destruction, pollution of the other elements: earth, water, and air.
But when fire is balanced with the elements of earth, water, and air, there is vitality. These sacred elements are the foundation of many traditions. Herbalism, medicine, religion, politics, and philosophy were understood in relation to the four elements in indigenous societies.
There is a story that I know little about, but it rests on the four elements, the four directions, and the four races that were responsible for protecting the elements. The white race was responsible for fire, the yellow for air, the red for earth, and the black for water. (If you know this story, please contact us. I want to know more.) It is easy to see how fire is exploited; not honored or protected. The pursuit of fire plundered water, earth, and air to the point that many of us wonder how we can survive with all of the pollution.
So here I am considering my own relationship with fire. When I saw the flames shooting out of the barn into the trees I was overtaken with fear and shocked when Charles said “it’s beautiful.” When I finally caught hold of my breath, I remembered that he was a firefighter for ten years in a damp climate where forest fires are uncommon. Standing there watching the core of our personal local food system burn, I was seven years old. I was remembering the glance I had of the fire in the truck, I was remembering the fires that regularly consume southern California, I was remembering the arson in North Dakota, but mostly I was remembering the burn of regurgitated Pepto-Bismol and why I hate the color pink.
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We want to express gratitude to those who have already visited to help and offer support: Will and Gretchen from Cherry Hill Ecological Farm, Patrick and Julia from Octagon Acres, Max and Marilyn from Happy Greens, herbalist Nicki Schneider, herbalist Leslie Alexander from Restoration Herbs, and Jo Feterle from Red Sky Apiary.
Since the fire, we’ve been a bit overwhelmed with text messages and emails. I have allowed myself to set them aside and just say here, that they are appreciated. I understand that many of you want to help and so here are some ways in which you can help depending on your resources and traditions.
- Consider your relationship with fire
- Burn a traditional incense for prosperity (in the Irish tradition that I feel strongly connected to through ancestry and my practice of herbalism, the plants of prosperity include peppermint, coltsfoot, fir tips, bayberry, comfrey, sage and vervain)
- Lay down or burn tobacco or corn meal
- Help us rebuild (sign up to get updates through the newsletter icon in the left hand column)
- Bring or send food or other comfort items (contact us for the address if you don’t have it)
- Send money to help us recover at our donation page: https://trilliumcenter.org/how-to-help/
Much gratitude to you all and to the element of fire for reminding us of the tenuous nature of life and death.