Sonoma Fires Part 2: Trees on Fire!

The Santa Rosa fires were of epic proportion. Here is a current page from my creative journal. I titled this drawing, My Memory of Trees on Fire!

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It is a sketch of trees that I see along the 101 Freeway after the fire. You can see the handprint of the edge of the fire, where a green tree ends and black trees start.

On the side of my trees, I also wrote about the burned trees, as a metaphor for the houses lost and the danger. How can one make sense of the randomness?

(‘One tree fine.
The next tree buned to the ground.
The next singed into a bare black experience.’)

I was staying at Fountaingrove Inn, a week before the fire burned that establihment to the ground, all the way down. Yeah I was just there, and it really shocked me when it burned down!

Then for two weeks flames were threatening my mother’s house, in a slow march through the county. The flames came within two miles. A single breeze could have brought the flames down and demolished her community!  The rain finally saved her place.  Never have I loved rain more…

She was a lucky one. Some people lost their homes and all their possessions the first night. Can you imagine losing everything in one night? No I cannot. And If this was bad, can you imagine how hard a war could be?

(Journal entry: That morning, I was woken at 8:00 by a phone call. The assistant watching my mom was calling to say Mom’s entire community was evacuating to the fairground, but my mom was too sick to join them. So I went to get my mom. I got her out before breakfast, so headed to Denny’s in Petaluma looking for a cheap meal.  Denny’s was full of evacuees but closed, so we moved onto McDonalds ….)

I saw much hunger and tiredness in the eyes of the people who like us, drove south on the morning of the fire, the ones who filled Denny’s and McDonalds in Petaluma. They had lots of children and were looking for a place to eat and rest. Denny’s was closed and could not serve food that day, but let them stay there to be warm and rest.

I have always been terrified of fires. As an artist, I have so many drawings and one-of-a-kind treasures I could never replace. I used to have nightmares of fires, when I was little.

Now let me tell you about this wildfire. It was ten times higher and more fierce, than I had ever dreamed. It was everywhere, north, south and east. I did not know flames could cross a freeway. Wow. People who called me from out of town, couldn’t believe how bad I was coughing from smoke and soot in the air. (Denial is a river in Africa…)

In the end, fire fighters made a ring around the last fire and an October rain came and put it out, two miles from my mom’s house.

As I drove through the Valley of the Moon and Sonoma to a Thanksgiving dinner, I could see the chimneys raising from the ashes of missing houses. I also saw blackened hills behind bright autumn vineyards.  The vineyards leaves are so bright, they remind me of the flames. I couldn’t clearly tell which trees were burned and which were just losing their leaves for winter.  We’ll have to wait to spring to see how much of the trees on the hills remain black. Then we will really know the damages…

Finally, I hope that the people who lost their homes had a good Thanksgiving, and are warm and dry somewhere this winter. This can be seen as a chance to create something new.

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