In the past few weeks, I have driven nearly the length of California. Not long after I crossed the Oregon border, I encountered the devastated landscape of the Delta Fire. Before the blaze was contained, it had consumed over 50,000 acres of Trinity National Forest. It burned so hot that highway guardrails melted.
I drove past a highway sign flashing a message. “Controlled burn, do not report.” Reducing fuel loads in the understory would have been unheard of a decade ago. But this is a new era. Most of the friends and relations I have stayed with en route to the LA Basin talk about fire differently. They describe clearing brush and limbing up trees on their property, in an attempt to starve future flames, or keep them low to the ground.
They seem to accept that the fire fighters can only do so much. And they are right.
Close to my final destination of Topanga Canyon, I drove south along highway 101 through the eastern edge of the Woolsey Fire. It consumed close to 100,000 acres only a month ago. The fire’s erratic nature blackened one building but not another. Charred hillsides met the edge of the freeway.
Topanga Canyon State Park only narrowly missed being consumed by this fire, because winds pushed it northeast. I recently took an early morning December walk in the canyon’s chaparral forest. At one point, I noticed a smudge of smoke. (visible in the mid-foreground of the photo, on the left) I peered more closely and realized it was condensation! A heavy rainstorm followed by several cold nights have brought moisture back to the landscape.
For now, the fire season is over. What has only begun is a shift in our human understanding. We are being asked to hone our ability to observe and work with natural rhythms, rather than see them as enemy. We are being called to relate to landscape in a new way.