Francis Bacon wrote:
Death is a friend of ours and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home.
Bacon, an essayist, philosopher, and statesman, was born in 1561 and died in 1626. I was born in 1961, 400 years later than Bacon. Do you realize what this means?
It means I need to get busy writing down interesting but moderately obscure stuff that people will still be quoting in around 2430 AD.
Um … does anybody out there think there will still be humans living on Earth’s surface in 400 years? Or is the Anthropocene yawning to an end sooner than that?
Asking for a friend.
Bonus points if you know what movie this is from and, like me, saw it when it was new.
Yesterday I reflected on the anniversary of the Thomas Fire and shared a photo of our hills burning. I took this photo today, of rain falling on them.
What shall we say, shall we call it by a name,
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin.
Water bright as the sky from which it came,
And the name is on the earth that takes it in.
We will not speak but stand inside the rain,
And listen to the thunder shouting I am! I am! I am! I am.
– The Grateful Dead
One year ago tonight, at this hour, the electricity was out in my home near Santa Barbara, California. In fact, it was out for many thousands of people from Camarillo to Goleta. That’s a distance of about 50 miles of mostly populated area – coastal cities and towns. There was a fire burning near Santa Paula and the worst power outage I’d ever experienced.
That night I wrote in my journal about the need to keep cell phones charged and batteries handy, mentioned the fire in Santa Paula – which I didn’t know had claimed so much in Ventura – and the power outage, and went to bed.
In the morning we knew that many homes had been lost as the fire swept across the Ventura hillsides, and a woman was dead. A hospital was destroyed and apartments, in addition to many single family homes.
The fire itself took two lives; ultimately 23 more a month later. But in my town, by the time the fire reached us here, days had passed, and thousands of firefighters had arrived in hundreds of fire trucks, with helicopters and airplanes. The winds were calm though there was almost no moisture in the air. This is from my journal:
12.13.2017. On Sunday morning December 10, the fire roared into Carpinteria from the northeast, and the north, from the hills near Divide Peak.
At 1:30 am we lost power and the glow could be seen. The lights went off many times and Dad and I didn’t sleep. An hour before dawn we watched the fire over the hills begin to take the facing side of our valley’s own hills, and spread and come down.
We watched the fire coming using apps, until we could see it descending on the town.
On December 11, in the afternoon, I took this photo of the burning hills from the balcony of my condo. See how the smoke from the freshest flames wasn’t even burning toward us? The fire burned slowly down the hills toward the town all day, with helicopters dropping water and planes dropping retardant, and an army of firefighters waiting for it at the bottom. We didn’t have the insane winds they had in Ventura, or Paradise, or Santa Rosa. And in the Woolsey fire just weeks ago.
Tonight I’m grateful for the absence of wind last year, for those many professionals, and for my family, and for the courage and constancy of my little town. I’m thankful for my home with Christmas lights twinkling on the balcony irons. I think about Paradise as I look up at those hills, now turning green with this week’s rain, and I pray for them. And for Thousand Oaks, Malibu, and so many places in that area.
If your home is in the mandatory evacuation area, which looks to me like more than half of the Carpinteria Valley and most of Montecito, I’m sorry. It has to be terribly stressful to have to pack up and leave your home. Those of us who are not in the red zone will be looking forward to your return. But I have to say this: we who stay behind are not necessarily the lucky ones. Less threatened? Possibly. But we will be riding out a storm like we have never seen in our lifetimes.
The last pineapple express of this magnitude, to my mind, was in the mid-1990s. Some of you can remember the exact year, the Arroyo Paredon flooded the northbound 101 at Padaro and mud covered the freeway south at La Conchita. And that was with healthy hillsides covered with plants and trees.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s like 1969 either. The Coyote Fire was 5 years earlier and there were no big debris flows in ’69. Just a lot of rain and brushy, unprepared creeks. That’s why they built the flood channels through Carpinteria; to handle water, not debris. I was only 8 but my parents tell me no one at the time mentioned that fire having any relationship to the flood.
So this is unique – historic – to have fire and epic storm so close in time. Am I being dramatic? I guess we’ll know when the sun comes up on Friday.
Stay or go, this is really going to suck. But I have faith we will survive. Pray for us who stay in the ship, and we’ll pray for you in the lifeboats. Godspeed.
Fellow Carpinteria – Santa Barbara locals, I’m just wondering … How are you feeling? I mean after the fire and the mudslides, how’s your soul? It’s an impertinent question, I know, but it’s been not quite 3 weeks and the recovery has been a process on our roads, communications, not to mention the recovery of the lost.
I’ve read that even those of us who were not directly impacted by the loss of a home, a friend, or a loved one, are assuredly suffering from secondary PTSD. Even several miles away we’re not isolated, we’re grieving too.
And the fact that 2 young and very young people are still missing makes it harder not to.
Personally, I still feel a range of emotion from sadness to frustration to anger, then gratitude and appreciation. I’m grateful to God that my family and my area are OK. I’m grateful for the helpers, the police and fire, the rescuers from so many entities, the people who worked and are working so hard to save trapped people and animals, to clear the roads, rebuild power and communications, and prepare the watersheds for the next rain.
Rain will come and that makes me nervous. How ready are we now, really? The authorities just say to be afraid. We remain at risk throughout the rainy season. They’ve learned nothing from the disaster about communicating a realistic “gradient of risk,” showing that some areas are more dangerous than others. Such assessments are inconvenient, difficult, but imperative.
I was relieved when the freeway reopened because it was a step toward normalcy. But now people are driving from the south toward Santa Barbara and slowing down in Montecito, to see what’s impossible to see from the freeway anyway. Traffic is backing up for 8 miles because of these jerks. That makes me mad. WTF are you looking for?
As for the 23 lost, from all walks of life, all ages, I am reminded of something Robert Pirsig wrote:
“We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people’s lives.”
What about you?
When I walked into my kitchen this morning, a disembodied computer voice roused itself and said to me:
“Good morning, Kyle. Today is Barack Obama’s last day as President of the United States. He is the 44th president and the first African American elected to that office. Thank you, Mr. President.”
I felt at once sad and grateful, angry, nauseated, and infected by despair. “Yes, thank you and thank you,” I thought, “but my God what have we done?”
This evening I wrote a blog post about my apprehension and my thoughts on citizenship, and posted that on another website. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined.
Here on Metaphor, I’ll just say that by my clock it’s after midnight in Washington DC; it is January 20, 2017. Thank you, Mr. Obama, and your wife and family, for your service and sacrifice offered with surpassing poise and manifest in good faith.
God bless and save America.