While The World Is on Fire

My dear friend Cornelia came very close to losing her house in the Thomas Fire this week. A sequence of text messages and pictures attests to the drama: fear and uncertainty, her husband’s vigilant presence, flames roaring in the hills directly behind the house, firetrucks lined up on the driveway, firefighters bracing themselves for further battle, helicopters dropping loads of bright red flame retardant, a roller coaster of emotion. At one point the scene was even broadcast last night on the nightly world news. “They simply canNOT let us burn now!” said Cornelia.

And indeed the house still stands. I just got the good news, along with a picture of a very ashy hillside and Cornelia’s wry comment: “It’s gonna be a white Christmas.”

So it was a moment of relief and gratitude, although I am sad to say that for a great many others, the story has not turned out so happily, and in fact this tragedy is ongoing.

Here in Gaviota, the air today is a little better than it was, but we don our masks when we go outside, and we monitor the fire maps and wind conditions with great trepidation, for the threat of fire is always real to us. We know that we are vulnerable too.

But there are moments of transcendent beauty even in these dire times. Today, for example, we went down to the beach in the afternoon, looked out onto the Channel, and saw the haze lifting and clearing in the distance, creating a luminous white-gold band above the sea. A mild wind emerged from the west, and I took off my mask and felt its novel coolness on my face.

The sun, high in the sky and filtered by smoke, was orange, almost red, and although the time and angle were not right for sunset, the colors it cast upon the sea were…sunset-like. But I could just as accurately say unlike-sunset, because everything was different, nothing quite right, displaced and disconcerting, but finally sublime. There were translucent glimmers of magenta-orange on the ocean, reflections on the wet sand like pools of flames, and orange waves glimmering. There was no sense of what time it was, and no sense that it mattered. There was only a gilded dazzling drunken sort of now.

And then came the dolphins, weirdly close to shore, spinning and leaping high out of the water. (What must they think?) We watched in wonder. A ray of light caught one as it jumped in the air, and its body glinted with an iridescent flash of orange just before it splashed back into the sea. Oh.

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