On August 2nd in the early afternoon, we were gathered in the meadow on my land in Mendocino singing “Happy Birthday” to my daughter, Maitreya. She had just turned 12. As the cake was being sliced, one of the children in attendance spoke up: “Is that fog?”
I took one glance into our ancient redwood forest and broke into a run. “That’s smoke!” I cried out. “We’ve got a fire!” Drawing closer, I saw the interior of one of the towering old trees, already hollowed out by a long-ago conflagration, blazing. Whipping my phone from my back pocket and calling 911, I raced over to the neighbors and banged on their door crying out, “Fire!”, and then plunged down into the woods. By the time I got there, the flames were ascending the interior of the tree like a snake and were aggressively climbing upwards. Our whole forest was threatened. Our whole neighborhood was threatened.
Through my daze of adrenalin, I tried to do my bit in rallying our response, but garden hoses were useless. It was only when our friends from the local volunteer fire department pulled up in their 4,000-gallon tanker that the fire could be extinguished.
We were lucky that day. There was no wind to spread the fire, we caught sight of the smoke in time, and the fire department was swift in their response, but I was in an adrenalin haze for a couple of days afterward. Our forest is our life – six acres of redwood trees, some of whom were already sailing aloft when the stones of the Norman cathedrals were being laid in England. Without them, how would I live?
Beneath our land runs a stream, an underground watercourse that feeds these soaring pillars and keeps our woods emerald-green, even in the heart of summer. As I watch the water levels (I can literally gaze down into our well) drop inch by inch during this drought, I wonder if we’ll make it through. I look up at the sky every day. Check the weather report. We’ve ordered huge capacity water tanks and are preparing to drill far deeper than the mere 30 feet of our present well.
Some days I’m seized by a low-grade panic. What happens to us, to our forest, if the rain ceases to come?
Stalking just over the horizon are war and disease, refugees and the homeless. Economic, social, and ecological systems evidence their slow-motion collapse. Dictatorship looms on the Right, and the Left becomes progressively fanatical and silly.
What to do? Having grown up on the streets with no family, one of my primary motivations in moving to this remote area of the coast was to provide a safe haven for my daughter, a “paradise” in its old Indo-European meaning of a “walled garden or fortification.” Indeed, the name of the land when we purchased it was already “Saranam.” “Refuge” in Pali, the language of safety in the Buddhist tradition.
Yet the world’s on fire everywhere. Continue reading “Singing to the Waters”