Much of California is in flames as I write today. Residents are in a state of high anxiety and the trauma of having lived through other fires so recently. Homes and businesses are burning, and 180,000 people have been evacuated. Animals and hillsides, forests and vineyards are being consumed by towering flames. Firefighters are working beyond fatigue.
I discovered the reflection below on Facebook. It is written by Siri Gunnarson, a young activist and wilderness guide who co-leads a wilderness rites of passage program for youth with School of Lost Borders. I was struck by her bravery in facing the truth of her current environment and what it is teaching her about our future with climate change. Her commitment to being in compassionate community with her neighbors, known and unknown, is a lesson for us all as we become more and more initiated into the urgency of making beauty for wounded places.
Siri Gunnarson writes:
My heart is heavy this morning with the state of California, the state of the world. The winds are blowing and smoke fills the valley in Payahunaduu (“the place where water flows” in the language original and current people, the Paiute — colonial name “Owens Valley”)… In the North Bay, rapidly spreading fires and high winds… climate crisis is here. The fire is near or with a place where I lived for years, and the place I plan to move to next month is evacuated… 180,000 people are estimated to be evacuated. Hundreds of thousands more are without power.
In the Sierra nearby the Taboose Fire still burns, for almost two months now… the danger for us humans dwelling in the valley is long past and the experience was a gift for me. I am learning to be a steward, to treat the land and all the beings I come in contact with as my relatives. Through fire in my backyard I raised my eyes to the urgency of our times. The reality that “fire season” is no longer just a season, and we need to take action.
Meanwhile, the fire of activism is burning all around the globe. Young people in the center, with a growing awareness that we need to center indigenous and black leaders… those who have survived atrocities of the past, whose ancestors have survived climate change with this land.
In the days the fire came close we turned to community. Community with the neighbors we hadn’t yet met, community also with the beyond-human. As we walked our rounds, took care of the place and prepared to evacuate we were in council – deeply listening with all… the fire, the wind, the waters… the heron, the coyote, the bobcat… with the trees and the plants… those displaced and those who have lost their lives…
Meanwhile, refugees and migrants are moving in mass, both because of climate crisis and because of war. As the change quickens (and it will) more people will be forced to move. We as a nation are building a wall and treating those who seek sanctuary atrociously— at the latest count we learned the US has separated more than 5,400 children from their parents, many who have been deported, with very little record.
No wonder the youth are taking to the streets. And from a different angle – no wonder there is a rise in suicide, anxiety and depression. These are (some of) the issues of our times, my heart goes out to the younger generations coming of age in this mess.
While I was in emergency response with Taboose Fire (pictured below) it became so clear that I want to live my life in this awareness of the crises, participating in community with others, in a centered, holistic response. In our team of stewards here we made room for all voices and room for all states of being— it was clear that “self care” and being well resourced was key to make it through the long windy nights and to continue to move with love.
Through this brush with fire I felt my path confirmed, my work still feels relevant and also not enough— it is time to pay attention, educate myself and participate in the revolution. We each have our part to play… sending gentleness and love to all of us as we dare to open our hearts to more love.
Sending prayers to all affected by the fires, and great gratitude for the firefighters and all in service of life.
- Kincade Fire: PHILIP PACHECO/AFP via Getty Images