Category Archives: Reconnect

After the Fire

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Amongst the charred remains of once tall trees and the blackened, barren mountain slopes there is already hope of rebirth. In the years that will follow, the burn scars will slowly fade. In the blackened earth, grasses and wildflowers will spring up from the ashes. Over time, tiny pine trees will take root and and stretch their limbs up towards the sun.

It’s so easy to look at the aftermath of the fire and only see loss and destruction. We often forget that with the pain and destruction of a fire, nature also offers the hope for cleansing and rebirth. At the same the Mountain Fire was destroying what we loved, it was it creating something new and beautiful, shaping the new forest to come.

Even as the flames crackled through the branches of our manzanita, cedars and pines, this new forest was already being born. Many tree species, like our native Coulter pine, have adapted to survive and even thrive after a forest fire. Their cones shelter seeds in shells that are so tough that only the intense heat of a fire can set them free. The Mountain Fire dumped millions of these seeds on the forest floor. In less than a month, a fraction of those will begin to germinate, pop their heads up through the soil and start growing into little seedlings.

Not only will the ashes of the old trees serve as Miracle-Gro for a crop of windflowers and hopeful pine seedlings, the clearing of the undergrowth will open up more nutrient and water resources for the older trees that remain, strengthening them. With the recent influx of cooling rain, our singed meadows and streams, have already slowly begun their recovery. Fire ecologists say these areas closest to water will be the first part of our high country to regain their full majesty.

Mother nature will do all this and more to not only restore, but to rejuvenate and re-imagine our forest into a beautiful new place. Fire is change, yes, but change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now that the imminent danger is over, our homes once again safe, it’s time to ask ourselves, “what can I do to help?”

1. Give it time to heal. We all want to get up there and see the damage, take stock of our losses. The urge is almost irrepressible- we are drawn like a bystander at a gruesome accident. But before you decide to sneak up for “just one look”, remember, this is a very fragile time for our high country.

The most critical long-term issue for a forest after a fire is erosion. Without plants to hold the soil in place, erosion can strip nutrients from the soil and make the earth too unstable to support new growth. The recent rains have already ravaged the burnt areas. Traveling this already fragile earth can do much more damage than you know.

Allow the forest time to heal, give it space that is needed to rebuild without excess foot and horse traffic that could degrade already fragile areas. “But, what harm could just one person do?” Well, not much, but you know it won’t be just one person that goes up. You could choose to make one less set of footprints to damage the soil.

2. Respect the Forest Service rules and timeline. Rest assured, they are not closing the Wilderness just to punish you. They set the rules in place to protect you and more importantly to protect the high country from overuse during this delicate time.

NOTE: Even after the flames are long extinguished, that does not mean that the danger for visitors to the high country has disappeared. Many charred trees are unstable, ready to fall, waiting for some impact to trigger their release. New holes and ruts hidden just below the surface from burnt out roots wait to twist unwary ankles.

3. Volunteer to help rebuild. Before the Wilderness can be re-opened the. Already severe erosion will need to be dealt with, damaged trails repaired, reinforced, possibly even rebuilt entirely. If you want to do something for the High Country you love, donate to, or volunteer to help with a trail maintenance program. The Forest Service Volunteer Association (FSVA), the California Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) have long worked to preserve our local trail system and they will need all the help and funding they can get in what promises to be a challenging year.

(In)convenient

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“Oh you poor girl… that must be so inconvenient.”

Convenience is something that we often shape our lives around. We take on so many things, we fill our days so much that we give ourselves a free pass when it comes to “the little conveniences” of life. It’s so easy to give in and just grab a quick dinner at the fast food joint, to pop something in the microwave, to order in for a sizzling hot cheesy pizza.

Two years ago, when I got my lab results back, I finally had to stop giving myself the free pass to all these “little conveniences”. Celiac (an immune reaction to a protein in wheat), in all of it’s inconveniences, has made me really think about my food, and my life, in a new way. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the quality of my food, where it comes from and how my body will use or be abused by it. Believe me, when an unknown food may make you sick for hours, days, or even weeks you learn to examine every bite with the care of a monk painting a holy script on a grain of rice.

Celiac is a unique gift. It has made me conscious of the many ways we view food- as pure fuel, as sumptuous pleasure and, in extreme cases, as a matter of life and death. I’ve learned to see food that is safe to eat not as a simple convenience, but as a goal to be striven for and invested in daily. Good tasting food that will nourish and not poison is not necessarily a given (for anyone).

Learning the rules for a celiac to healthy (not just safe) eating is a spotty process full of mistakes, setbacks and not a little bit of pain along the way. Trusting food made by others, with multiple ingredients is sketchy at best (beware potlucks!). “If it has a label it stays off my table” has been a good rule of thumb for me, a rule that has taken me solidly out of the realm of processed “convenience” foods. Yes, there are boxed gluten-free foods- but after examining the labels I can firmly say that gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy!

I cook mostly at home, or eat at a few trusted local restaurants where they know my needs. I almost always use whole food ingredients: tomatoes, peppers, greens, local pastured meats and eggs. I’ve even branched out and experimented with new foods I would have never considered before; tacos de lengua (tongue), liver, sweetbreads, herring, kombucha, new vegetables and greens… The list goes on.

Meals take longer to prepare now, are more “inconvenient”, but something interesting has been happening over the past two years. With less exercise and eating as much as I want I’ve lost over 25 lbs and increased my muscle mass dramatically. I’m never sick, rarely tired and my moods have evened out. My friends have all commented on the changes. I have a lot more mental and emotional clarity about what I want and the determination and patience to do what it takes to get there. I get more done in much less time.

Looking back to 2 decades ago I’m astonished. I’m far stronger, healthier, happier, and hopefully (I think) wiser than my twenty year old self. Yes, if you want to know, I think I could kick my twenty year old self’s butt in a race, hands down.

So is my lifestyle inconvenient? You be the judge.

Run Away From Your Problems

Exercise and stress

A tightening in my throat,

‘Put down the plate.’

‘Don’t break anything don’t break anything’

Go for a run. A sprint… let it out, breathe through the tightening throat until it loosens, push the quads up the steep slope till you can only think about what you have to do right now, not worry about what was or is or might be…

Turn it all off and just run.

Let me go…. Let me run.

My cousin is sick. Very sick with something that in her case won’t get better and probably will get worse. I just got news that she’s in the hospital again. I have a similar condition, but I’m in remission. I’m a nutritionist, I’m a trainer with a passion for medicine and health, I make things better, I’m a healer. But I can’t heal this. I can’t make it go away. And as I watch her waste away I feel hurt and powerless… and it just adds to the baseline. I’m worried about my family- the stresses of my brother’s life, my aging parents’ health, my own health that I’ve just reclaimed. Sometimes it gets to be too much and I need to run.

Walk in the door, drop down my keys on the counter. I’m fine, I’m in control… I’ll work through this’… The heavy red keychain clanks on the thick oak. The sound breaks something in me. Suddenly I’m crying.

Bawling and gasping.

Standing there in the kitchen. I pick up and manage to put down in quick succession: my favorite red flower plate, my handmade acorn mug, a drinking glass…. “Don’t break anything, don’t break anything.” I must be angry under all of this crying, because the urge to break something is almost undeniable.

“Go for a run, girl. Go for a run. You’re ok, you just need a run. You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok.” Keep repeating it as I shimmy into my running pants, shrug on a sweater and my Merrells and beeline for the front door, barely closing it behind me.

Icy air bites my face. I wedge my headphones into my ears, take large strides to clear the end of the driveway and swing right to take on the steep street. Crank the volume up and jump forward to a song with an aggressive beat that takes me up the hill and away.

Run Away.

It turns out that ‘running away” from your problems is not a problem. I used to think that there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t just “think it out”. But guess what? We’re not made that way! We are made to move- and there’s nothing wrong with using physical activity to deal with stress- in fact it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Exercise is one of the best to ways to clear the mind. According to researchers (and a lot of people like me) it’s a great and natural way of dealing with anxiety. Recently scientists have started to pin down exactly how exercise works to help us cope by disrupting the various feedback loops that worsen the effects of stress.

Anxiety Feedback loops

“The mind is so powerful that we can set off the [stress] response just by imagining ourselves in a threatening situation,” relates neuroscientist Bruce McEwen in his book ‘The End of Stress as We Know It’. So, the more we think out our stress, we literally make it more real and threatening to us and make our response to it worse and worse. Thanks, real nice catch 22.

By providing something else to focus on, exercise short circuits this nasty loop before you work yourself into a frenzy… And here’s the news flash- If you can work yourself into a frenzy, you can run (or hike or bike) yourself out of it. Just as your mind influences your body, your body affects your mind.

How it works: made to move.

In order for your mind and body to be optimally functioning, you need to move. Staying still and dwelling on it will just make matters worse:

“Researchers immobilize rats in order to study stress. In people too, if you’re locked down — literally or figuratively — you’ll feel more anxious. People who are anxious tend to immobilize themselves — balling up in a fetal position or just finding a safe spot to hide from the world…in a sense any form of anxiety feels like a trap. The opposite of that, and the treatment, is taking action, going out and exploring, moving through the environment.” Sparking Life

Tense muscles? You need to get out and go. Physical activity (especially short bursts of intense activity) reduces the resting tension in your muscles. This disrupts a nasty anxiety feedback loop between your muscles and brain. If your muscles are tight, you are much more likely to be anxious- and vice versa. If your body is calm, your brain is less likely to spiral into worry.

Exercise also produces calming neurochemical changes. As our muscles begin working, it sets a process in motion that makes more tryptophan available to our brains. More tryptophan = more serotonin. This helps to calm us down and enhance our sense of safety. Heart muscle cells chip in and produce a molecule called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) that puts the brakes on the stress response. Trust me, this is a good thing for your overall mood.

The best thing is, exercise works both immediately as a quick shot in the arm and increases stores of serotonin, GABA (the main target for most of our antianxiety medicines) and norepinephrine in the long term. In fact, research reveals that it’s at least as effective as anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications without the side effects. Sparking Life

So, when you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a run, hike, or even a swim, you are.

Getting Unplugged

Connect with nature, Cure Nature Deficit disorder

“People are meant to connect with natural places. It is good for the human soul for people to explore their relationship with the places where they live.”

There was a time not too long ago that I felt more connected to my iphone than to the wilderness. At work I spent my time on the phone providing tech support, or hunched over my computer keyboard designing logos for hours on end until my neck and back were on fire with pain. My obsession with my TV shows, tech gizmos, and structured “play” activities made it harder for me to truly allow for free time. Something was always demanding my attention, distracting me, offering the promise of cheap, quick and effortless entertainment.

Connected

I grew up in a different world. I was three when we moved back to the family ranch. We had no TV. I spent my days outside. I played as much with sticks and stones as plastic toys. I knew only knew about town life from short resupply trips.

We were always outdoors. My older brother and I built dams in the stream near the house; making our own swimming holes- then destroying them a few days later just to watch the swirling power of the water take everything away. We climbed the oaks for lookout posts, built forts in the trees and bunkers in the brush. It made me feel proud that we had made these things together. We had built them ourselves. They were somehow ours in a way that things simply given to us were not.

I was always in touch with and learning about the world around me. My father took me out and showed me the local snakes, animal tracks and scat. He told me how to tell them apart by what they ate, how they moved and how their lives (and ours) followed the seasons. I learned to look before I placed my foot, watching the ground and surrounding brush carefully for threats. I learned to respect my environment in its power and beauty. I felt connected.

In Girl Scouts we would stagger up the trail under the weight of old fashioned tents on multi-day camping trips. We were often short a tent and I discovered I loved sleeping outside under the stars. The cold wind would bite my cheeks as I stared at the night sky. I remember my first view of the stars from the mountains up near Idyllwild. The Milky Way was a brilliant white splash. I would lay awake for what seemed like hours making up my own constellations.

I felt like I was part of something bigger. Like I had a purpose.

The Disconnect

As a child I had run free with a light heart and an inquisitive mind. My relationship with nature as a young adult became gradually more structured and constrained. Although I never completely stopped my outdoor activites, they took on a different tenor. With my new University and then job obligations I felt I had to make an effort to spend time in nature. Living in the city, it seemed all so far away and harder to get to – any outing had to be planned- and it seemed I never had the time.

I rarely approached my now brief journeys into the wilderness with the same completely open and accepting attitude I had as a child. I had learned the ways of modern distraction. I was often thinking of the other things I had to do. I filtered my experience through my camera, by listening to music, by looking for connectivity with my “smart” phone to check my email.

It took me a while to realize that most of the barriers that kept me from connecting with my wilderness were of my own making. I had made the choice to make these limitations and barriers part of my life- and I also could make the choice to let them go.

Home Again

In the last couple of years I’ve looked back on my childhood relationship with the wilderness and resolved to restore our free and easy bond. Finding ways to connect despite my busy life have been key. Working with the Forest Service as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger, with Search and Rescue and the Sierra Club as a WTC intstuctor have been critical to reconnecting me with my love of nature, with my love of life itself.

I believe that a life without a connection to nature becomes more sterile, somehow blander. It robs you of basic skills of self-reliance, creativity, spirituality, of a feeling of connectedness with the cycles of life.

Away from the easy distractions of technology you not only can, but are forced to hear the ebb and their flow of your own thoughts and become comfortable with them. Without this inner ear you are likely to become disconnected from your own sense of self and goals in life. You are more likely to float on the surface of life and less likely to truly live.

 

The Yin and Yang of Things.

Yin and Yang

It’s all about balance really.

I don’t just mean the everyday concept of balance- of ‘everything in its time, of learning to not overdo things’, but the dynamic set of balances between pairs inherent in any living system.

Consider the amazing pairing of balances in our own biology. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are engaged in a breathtakingly beautiful dance, deftly maneuvering to ensure our survival. If we must fight, the sympathetic shifts its weight forward and readies us for an energetic burst. If we need to rest and digest, the parasympathetic calms us and sets the right mechanisms to into smooth motion.

At every level, sets of intertwining pairs work in a dynamic balance to regulate our every breath, every sigh and every blink of our eyes.

Each firing of even a single neuron is regulated by slight shifts in homestatic mechanisms in our cells.  Sodium and potassium ebb and flow in opposition in and out of the cells, allowing for transport, volume control and the action potentials that enable our neurons to transfer the very energy of our thoughts and sensations.

As we examine the moving parts, we suddenly realize that these individual pairs are tied together with other partners in the ever-growing dancing web that somehow smoothly regulates our life.

Calcium is not only paired with Phosphorus in a dance that keeps our blood pH in a precious life preserving range, but also partners with Magnesium in myriad ways. Calcium makes muscles contract. Magnesium is necessary for muscles to relax. Calcium is lauded for its bone building abilities, but without Magnesium to partner with far less bone will be built.

It makes you think- where else can we see these relationships in our lives? Where else do we see the eternal dance of balanced pairs?

On Drive(ing).

The other day I was driving along, maximizing my learning time by listening to a iTunesU podcast on Pathophysiology when I realized that my brain was just stuffed. Full-up. Literally jam-packed. It wasn’t going to take in even one more tiny scrap of information no matter how I tried to push and shove it down that convoluted funnel into my brain.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m studying for a second degree in health and nutrition and I absolutely love it. But, I’ve been focusing so hard for so long on learning, I’d forgotten that every system in our body needs time for rest and regeneration. Non-negotiable rest.

My drive to move forward had become blinding to all else and I was chugging interminably forward- consuming every spare moment with purposeless productivity at the expense of everything else. I couldn’t even carry on a conversation that didn’t have something to do with nutrition. I was driving my boyfriend crazy and some people had started crossing the street to avoid me (maybe a slight exaggeration, but only slight!)

With my blind drive, I had shoved aside the concept of balance, of regenerative relaxation and instead enshrined “being productive” as the all encompassing goal. I listened to podcasts on my latest obsession as I drove, trying to fit in as much time as possible in a panicky ‘sponge’ mode: ‘I must soak it all in- hurry! There’s not enough time to get it all! You must move on or you’ll never keep up! HurryHurryHurry!

Thinking about this while driving I came upon a sudden realization:

“Girl, that’s NOT healthy”

Yes, in order to get things done you do need to prioritize, but first you need to understand why and if these things are truly important to you. I’ve gotten so caught up in the motions of being the “best” and most productive that I forgot why I wanted to do these things in the first place:

“I want to be healthy and help those around me achieve a healthy ….balance…. in their lives”… hmmmm… maybe I should re-evaluate.

So I pulled over, parked the car and went for a walk- a loooong walk. Without my iPod, without my books, without all of my tools and all those busy thoughts. And you know, the world didn’t end. In fact, just that little break helped me clear my mind and reset my priorities and get back to actually enjoying what I was doing without that ever present element of panic.

I think that we all get caught up some times in trying to be productive- especially in an area we love. We feel a duty to ‘make the most of it’- and that can often get in the way of our best work.

Breathe. Step back and relax.

Put down your fabric, your shears, your paints, the tools of your trade, push away from your computers, stop listening to that podcast. Go, walk outside, take a deep breath, take one step and then another and let your mind just flow along without an agenda. Trust me, you need it- and you’ll enjoy your work again and be a whole lot more productive later.

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage

My best friend/sister brought her little baby girl over yesterday and we spent the afternoon talking, laughing and enjoying her little one. Tracing the shape of her cheek, feeling her tiny fingers between yours is almost surreal. Earlier last month we were scared that we might lose her- now here she is happily burbling in my arms. She really drives home the gift of life.

In the last year, I’ve been becoming more aware of the transitions that we flow through in our lives. A dear friend of mine recently had a massive stroke and has spent her year regaining the ability to speak, walk, and remember. She lost parts of her memory. Some of her personality traits have shifted, as new neurons attempt to take up the function of damaged cells of her left brain. Spending time with her you can feel her reaching out, and deciding how to shape anew just who and how she will be. Sitting with her I marvel- She is my old friend, but also someone new; someone who this time around has chosen to let got of some of her baggage and travel a different road.

Another close friend retired and shifted his family into a new state to take care of a brother with lung cancer. As his brother goes through a journey he may not survive, he and his family have redefined their idea of what it means to be family- and of themselves. They could have just as easily stayed at home and sent him their best wishes, but their decision shapes the flow of their lives.

These points of decision can be times when we finally become truly conscious of our ability to choose our identities. It is how we deal with these rites of passage that define us in our own (and other’s) eyes. They help us to define how we see ourselves, who we believe we really are. True, in our small daily moments we get to decide our reactions, but it is these major points of transition that push our assumed identies in front of our face- and also allow us to change and reshape our identity if we see the need.

Life is a blessing, but then, even the sad points and the things we view as tragedies are also points of transitions, critical points at which we can begin anew and shape a new point of view, a new future. We are more likely to make needed changes in our lives when confronted with these rites of passage than at any other point. We are more likely to choose step forward, to turn consciously towards or away from something when we are confronted with a sharp point of decision. Both joy and sorrow are gifts- times in which we can become conscious of our own lives and choose to set our own course instead of reacting on autopilot.

On Definitions

On definitions in ArtBringing together the definitions for my book on Textures Techniques has gotten me thinking on the ‘definition’ of art.

No matter how we try to describe each technique as accurately as possible, there is something missing from our detailed descriptions. Something essential that the artists themselves bring to the table that remains outside of our best efforts to describe.

The birth of a piece is not the sum of the techniques that the artist used to create it. It is not a recipe : add a dash of reverse appliqué, a teaspoon of oil painting, a tablespoon of Tsukineko, a cup of embellishments – mix in a blender at high speed and voila! You have ‘art’!

It is the unique patterns of thought, personality and experience that the artist (and the viewers) bring to the piece which help it become more than a pleasing assembly of color and form and become a way to communicate, to share the way we see/sense/feel the world in, outside and around us.

But how can we define these unique patterns? Even in repetition they change and evolve, react to and shape their context. Even as they echo each other, they are as different and varied as fractals, as the DNA that shapes us all, yet makes us all strikingly unique. There will never be another you, and no one else will ever make the art that comes from the inner workings of your soul in your place in time.

Anyway- I’d better get back to work!

Helene

Learning to Speak Again.

Learning to Speak Again: dealing with a stroke

Every day as a writer, as an artist, every new piece is a new attempt to communicate- an often frustrating attempt to express yourself in a language with few well defined words.

I remember as a child sliding into the mental space that let me see things differently.More clearly. The patterns of light shifting across a blade of grass. The textures and colors.

But no matter how clearly I saw it, there was always the struggle to communicate this wonderful (and sometimes awful) world to the people I knew.

I would open my mouth, but the REAL words wouldn’t come. Pure frustration. Sometimes I felt raw anger that others couldn’t understand. To try and express the overwhelming patterns of beauty wasn’t possible for me in words- I would grasp and it would slide though my fingers. I had a desperate need to share these patterns. To help others see them. Appreciate them. Sing with them. I guess that was what drew me towards writing, art & photography- I could finally share the lines and swirls of rapturous movement, color and light I’d sense in the world- sharing some little part of what was singing to and through me.

Since I’d “grown up”, I hadn’t given this feeling of struggle, frustration and desperation much thought for a long while. The last couple of decades at least. But then something changed to wake me up again.

It was a little rip, a tiny rupture in a vessel in the brain. Suddenly a dearly loved friend of mine was pulled down out of her life and thrust into a hospital bed with tubes erupting from all over her body. She ‘slept’ for 2 months. The day she woke up was amazing, joyful… and somehow unreal.

She knew who we were, but she had lost the power to express it. I could see the struggle in her eyes- so many things she wanted to say, so many questions. But the words, the meanings weren’t there anymore. A connection had been severed. Once it had been so easy to communicate, but now there was only a deep longing and frustration. She knew what she wanted to tell us, but she didn’t have the words.

Now as she goes through physical and speech therapy I can still sense the quiet frustration. Artists speak of “creative block”- but aren’t we all artists? –striving to share our unique views and experience and falling just a little bit (or a lot) short. Even as she learns to speak again, can she ever truly share her experience with us? Or only describe a pale shadow of it to those of us who have never been so locked within our bodies? We are also limited- do we even have the vocabulary to truly ever understand something so far from our everyday life? I can’t understand how hard this must be for her. But, I can try– and maybe trying will widen my view of life… even just a little bit.

I’ve been wondering about my purpose in life… and I think this had made it just a little more clear. I have a commitment to do my best to try and communicate all the beauty and ugliness, all the light and dark that I see- to make it more real and tangible to others- to reach out and share my experience of the world with others- hopefully widening their view- if even just a little bit. If my friend can be so brave, then I can only hope to follow her example.

Prescribed (heart)burn

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I live in a rural area that has about the same amazingly fire resistant properties as fluffy cotton ball tinder- on a hot, dry day…. with a butane torch held under it for good measure.

Our family ranch in Sage (on Sage Rd) is surrounded by large amounts of dry Sagebrush, dry chaparral, oaks (with dry leaves), occasional pines (with dry needles) and dry debris, with plenty of dry invasive grasses to add extra oomph to the potential conflagration. (Bonus! Now with more fuel!) This leads to conditions that might be generally described as “you’re f*^#ed!” when fire season comes around. We pretty much know each of the local firemen by name. We’ve run the fire prevention gamut: prescribed burns, backfires, helicopters dropping water and retardant in wide swathes like graffiti from giant orange spraycans across the land.

Each time a backfire or prescribed burn is suggested, my heart drops down into my stomach and panicked thoughts run through my head; what about the safety of the process? The possible risk to land and home? Will the animals make it out alright if something goes wrong? Will we?

Our family homesteaded this land. That’s pretty uncommon in California, with its big box stores, strip malls and cookie cutter houses. Here everything is new- anything over 10 years is considered dated. 20 is old and venerable and fifty is practically enshrined as ancient. Our family has lived here for over a century and a half. Most of the houses and structures are well over 100 years old and have housed several generations. That may not seem like too long on, say an evolutionary scale, but it’s plenty long enough to grow more than slightly invested and attached. Every time a fire passes nearby a chill runs down my spine. The suggestion of purposely setting a fire as a preventative measure makes me nervous- even if I see the necessity.

Several years ago, 3 adventurously dumb kids with motor bikes and a desire to avoid boredom in the most destructive way possible set a fire (by mistake, one sincerely hopes) near our property. The blaze proceeded to burn a large section along our Northwest flank, leaving the land resembling an unhealthy bald patch on a mangy dog.

The fire department took one look at the fire raging (ushered along by our good friend, the Santa Ana wind) and made the decision to let it burn through a section of overgrown, dense chaparral to remove the accumulated dry debris. In essence this was an accidental form of a ‘prescribed burn’. It was a nervous time for us- there is always the fear of the fire escaping the tenuous ‘controls’ and burning down everything that we’ve built. But as quickly as it had come, the darn thing decided to peter out. The winds died down, and the fire quickly followed…

Later next year, a much larger fire swept through the area again (not an odd occurrence in an area where we have a fifth season- Fire season), ravaging much of the land to our Northwest. We watched from (relative) safety as the fire block provided by the accidental “prescribed burn” from the year before protected our house, leaving us in a little island of our own.

Breathing in the air heavy with smoke particles (some of them so large I could swear that I could feel them rolling grittily down my throat and into my lungs…) Oddly enough, despite feeling a bit sick to the stomach and having a pounding headache from the smoke, I ended that day feeling rather good. Our home wasn’t a crisply charred black charcoal shell, my garden with its bounty of luscious tomatoes was still there, the old butchering oak and hammock with the view of Mt. San Jacinto still stood in place, swaying in the breeze.

I know that there are many obstacles that fire managers face when using fire as a management tool- The unpredictability of wind and weather, the issue of obtaining enough funding and crew with experience necessary to carry out the job, the need to make extremely quick decisions concerning millions of dollars of property and human lives that will later be judged by the general public are just some of the difficulties in fire prevention and prescribed burning.

I’ve been in this situation myself, and even though my heart was pounding the entire time and my stomach does flip flops until the last flames die down, I have been more than happy with the results. Thank you, Sage volunteer fire crew.