Tag Archives: wildfires

Cake and flowers for the inconvenienced.

In the midst of destruction, smoke, fear, and drama of the worst sorts, I rested for most of last week as though at a peaceful (indoor) oasis, with my dear friends. First it was the two evacuees, and then a third who was merely on her way home to Ohio. After all were gone, I hurried to prepare my part of a church school lesson, attended Liturgy…

…and a new week had begun. Whoa! While I had my head turned, a new season had suddenly arrived. The nights are cooler again, the sun is slant. When the wildfire smoke thinned out a bit, I could notice the fall feel of the air, and skies turning from orange to blue. It made me weep with relief.

The butternuts needed to be brought in, the zucchini yanked out, and a general clean-up begun. I had planned to plant peas in September; now I hope to do it before the first week of October is gone.

The zucchini plants were disgusting; for many weeks the white flies have flown up in a cloud every time I rummage around to pick the perfect fruits; those insects are still present, and now ashes blow and drift down wherever I move a stem of salvia, or a fig branch.

I try not to keep talking about cinders, but they have gone from being an unusual element of the weather to being constant, and hard to ignore. When it doesn’t include smoke and ashes I find the weather to be always interesting, but in a more satisfying way. Of course, I am merely inconvenienced; those of you who experience tornadoes, hurricanes and floods have your own reasons to not be exactly “satisfied” even with more natural weather made up of rain and wind.

When the zucchini was gone this flower was revealed, its bloom pristine though its leaves are sooty. My Seek app can’t identify it, and I don’t recall seeing such a plant here before.

The two 4-inch zinnia starts I planted in June have grown gloriously bushy. It took me months to get around to deadheading them; this week was only the second time. A few flowers had formed seeds, which I scattered in hopes of finding some sprouts next spring. But they are likely hybrids, so who knows?

The figs keep coming, and I plan to make this autumn cake again. But I can’t eat the whole thing… who is in my “bubble” that I might invite to share with me? I could give the whole cake to a neighbor! Actually, I had thought to make two, and already planned to give one to a neighbor…. I don’t have my thinking cap on right now to work out this problem.

Because while I was typing, the smoke thickened. I have shut the windows, taken the laundry off the clothesline, and turned on the air purifiers again. Since I did make a little start in the garden, and brought in a few of the red zinnias, I am content. If no new fires start, we can expect the skies to clear more and more, just in time for cold weather and wood fires in the house. I hope.

I know that many of you pray for us who live in wildfire country, for the firefighters, for rain. Thank you!

Send a healthful wind to blow…

Another “wildfire season,” another unexpected blessing. Often when there is hardship, stress, or suffering, there is an opportunity for people to come together in new ways, helping each other to navigate the interruptions and obstacles, to weather the storm, to walk the strange path that may present itself. During three of the last four dry, warm and windy autumn seasons of evacuations, I have had friends here briefly. Each time they were escaping from a different area and situation. But this fall no one needed me during the first wave of fires, and I was busy with family anyway.

Then, the wind changed, and what had been a fire for some other valley skipped a few miles in a different direction, and local people needed to leave their homes and get out of the way, in case. Two women who are both friends of mine evacuated here for two nights. Juliana has been close to our whole family for at least 40 years, but we hadn’t talked much for quite a while, and it was the greatest joy to have her in the house for what turned into an extended slumber party of chatter, catching up, and thanking God. I had loved her parents as well; they were dear to our children in a multitude of ways, and her presence made me long for them, too. But even that was somehow sweet.

The wind changed again, and they have departed. As soon as they left, I made another apple run, having used up my last box in various ways. This time I got Winter Bananas and Pippins. They say the “Bananas” are a dry variety to start with, and have long been a favorite for dehydrating, so I will surely preserve some of them that way. It took the fruit only a few hours in my garage to fill that space with a warm and harvesty aroma.

Then it was time to head to church for Vigil for our parish feast. I was able to be inside the church last night and this morning. Just splendid. Heaven came down, as always.

This morning when I arrived the sun was rising into the sky in that eerie, smoky way. The wind has started blowing the other direction and our area is in less danger, so I don’t understand why the smoke is so bad today.

At the end of the beautiful, beautiful service we prayed this prayer that has been on our lips many times in the last weeks:

A Prayer in Time of Wildfires

O Lord of all the earth, Who dost touch the mountains, and they smoke; Who dost send thine angels back and forth over the earth as ministers of thy providence and messengers of thy will; and Who dost thyself traverse thy creation on a throne of living creatures, while being thyself everywhere present in heaven, earth, and the lower regions: send now thy swift angels to minister to us who are afflicted by terrible wildfires, which threaten men’s lives and property, and also the lives of beasts and the well-being of the land. Through thy ministers who govern the elements, cause rains to fall to quench these flames. Then by thine angels who command the airs, send a healthful wind to blow, driving away the smog. Through the prayers of thy saints guard human life and well-being, and with thine own Right Hand bless and guide those who fight against this blaze, and preserve all in health from the smoke it sends up. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we beseech thee, O Father of worlds, Who dost reign eternally over all creation, together with Him and thine All-holy Spirit, the Life-giver and Paraclete. Amen.

Playing under sepia skies.

Soldier’s family and I are having such a good time, I think most of us forget for long periods about the pervasive fires and the smoky skies. My dear people arrived four days ago, and we’ve been as busy as beavers ever since. The boys are much louder than beavers. There’s something about three boys arriving in a family in less than six years that creates a force field of extra decibels and energy output. I have no doubt that in the balance the constructive energies are increasing!

The first day we did the creek walk, and tasted fennel in all stages of its growth, from the newest fronds to the early seeds. The boys learned about Queen Anne’s spot of blood, and how horsetails break so satisfyingly clean at their joints. I learned the name of a new plant, White Sweetclover.

For two days we did lots of chores in the garden and around the house.

My playhouse has been lovingly fortified by Soldier since I got it used five years ago; back then he put a floor on it and placed it on a foundation he’d made. He sealed it against the rain, and repaired the door when it was falling apart. This week he recreated the little decoration above the door, that used to have red plastic matching the roof. Now it has red wood shingles matching the new roof, and I don’t think there is any remaining plastic that can peel and get brittle and break. If ashes weren’t falling in the back yard I’m sure little Clara would be playing house.

Liam picked many figs that were hard for me to get to, because it’s easy for him to wriggle among the hedges of yarrow and oregano, into the tangle of fig branches, to find the fruits that are drooping and black. Often they have a bird peck taken out of them, so we cut that part off and eat the rest. He and Laddie helped me deadhead the echinacea and one remaining lavender.

The third day, off to the beach! It was an exploratory mission; we couldn’t know for sure from the air quality apps if it would be worse than inland, but we hoped not, and when we got out of the car it was comfortable enough to breathe, so we stayed all afternoon. It was Clara’s first beach experience. She was game for everything.

The boys used all their mental and physical powers in sport with the surf. I who was never much am an athlete am awed by the quick reflexes of one, and the way another takes on the waves as a sort of whole-body interactive science project, learning how to work with the crashing and pushing and keep his balance.

Pacific sand crabs

Joy found a sea plant washed up and called to Brodie, “Here’s a rope!” He came running and gathered it up, flung it out, dragged it all over.

Soldier made a castle and hours later we waited for the waves to slowly encroach. The shorebirds entertained us, digging with their bills that were nearly as long as their stilty legs. At home later, Soldier and I with the help of Cornell’s allaboutbirds.com identified them as Marbled Godwits.

Two things hard to understand: How late it was, when we started home. Maybe the sunlight’s never changing all day confused our inner clocks. The other strange thing was the color of our pictures when we looked at them later.

I’m reading to the boys Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong. It has ten chapters, so I told them that we should try to read two chapters at each sitting, so as to guarantee that we finish in the nine days they will be here, since we can’t read every day. Today we finished the sixth chapter, and in the middle of the session they started playing with Legos while they listened, and building figures to represent the main characters in the story.

The story starts with the man, a flock of white chickens, and the little red hen. He drives off to work every day. And then, along comes a big black dog — that he doesn’t want. I would like to give you more of a review of the book and tell you about our intense engagement with the story, and the things we talk about. But I am way too tired to do that right now, and I must rest and store up strength, and be ready to meet the force field tomorrow morning. Good night!

That fiery quality.

I love the little skippers. I had forgotten until I looked it up again just now, that the type playing among my salvia flowers is the Fiery Skipper. Which makes me think I should mention the currently fiery conditions in California. I am glad to tell you that my situation is still low-risk. But the smoke has been more constant the last week; I suppose it blows in here from various fires, but I don’t keep abreast of their details on even a daily basis. I just looked for an update, but there are so many burns making up the various fire complexes, it’s a lot to keep track of. Especially when acronyms generally are so hard for me to remember.

When I start to look up the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I cannot for the life of me remember that those are not part of the SCU Complex, but rather the CZU Complex. “The SCU Lightning Complex Fire is composed of 20 separate fires in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.” The LNU Complex spreads over six counties. See how it is? And I haven’t tried to learn anything about the fires beyond those three, in other parts of our huge state.

Wines of the 2020 vintage from northern California might be interesting: “The early fires pose a threat if they persist and heavy smoke blankets the region for several days before grapes are picked. That can lead to ‘smoke taint,’ an undesirable burnt taste in wine made from grapes with skins permeated by smoke.”

In some areas, as below, with San Francisco Bay close to the middle, the burn scars are so large they can be seen in satellite images.

What is it like for the birds and the tiniest creatures when the air is full of ash?

They continue to go about their business, doing their work, but are they slowed down by the smoke? Are their lives shortened? They don’t worry about longevity; they just keep going until they are struck down.

A man in my church lost his house in a fire near Lake Berryessa. He had sold it only three weeks before, but was still living in it. All of his belongings burned. He said he was very glad that it happened before the new owners had moved in, so that they were his things and not those of people who would have lost all their belongings and their new house. He is a single man and seems to feel content with being completely unencumbered.

I am continuing to do what I do… Last week my neighbor gave me a couple of quarts of strawberries that were left over after the food bank distribution that she helps with. They were perfect for making into popsicles. I found my ancient molds on a high shelf in the garage and poured in the sweetened puree. Several grandchildren will be visiting next month and I’ll be ready!

Soldier and Joy’s family are meeting me in the mountains for a few days, as part of our time together. They are flying to California, so I am trying to bring most of the stuff we’ll need in my car. Like books!

The sun will shine and we’ll be at the lake a lot… I hope it’s not too smoky up there. I also hope we will have thunderstorms, and it will be nice to be cozy and read by the fire. A fireplace fire, 100% contained.