6th Day of Christmas, 2017
This Fall, my wife and I visited Big Sur again. It’s a repeated pilgrimage for us, to go back at least once a year or so, to take pictures in the cypress grove where we were married, to regroup, to dream. This year, our relationship with the land, the history, the people, seemed deeper, “real” in a different way than it had before. The roads into the area had just reopened, allowing access to cars for the first time since last Winter’s historically heavy rains and mudslides. Local restaurants, inns, shops, and campsites were, for the first time in nearly a year, reopening their doors. Recovery was not complete (is it ever?), but at the same time everyone was clearly happy to be back in business, and otherwise reconnected by road to the rest of California and the World.
I was particularly struck by the destructive power of the Earth, and the resiliency of its people, at our long-time retreat Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, where our relationship to the land was really born, and where we have as much history as at any home we’ve lived (more, really). In the mudslides, several cottages at Deetjen’s were damaged, at least one completely demolished, the Creek House, where members of our family stayed for our wedding weekend, and where we’ve stayed a few times in the years since with our kids. The Creek House was gone, flattened down to a pile of lumber, brick, and plumbing. The caretakers of the place seemed relatively unfazed, while appropriately mourning their losses, as they worked together to clean up, rebuild, and tend to their current guests. In particular, we were struck by the confidence and clear perspective of a young woman who was waiting tables at breakfast, who we later realized we had seen grow up, off and on over the years, since before she was born, and had known her Mother and Grandmother since our first visits 24 years ago. Generations of families have taken care of this land, have built and rebuilt their homes and businesses, and have chosen to stay despite knowing and fully experiencing the dangers of living there. The Earth destroys, but Life regenerates, restores, reinvents itself.
Meanwhile, in much of the rest of California, through the Fall and even now into Winter, fires have devoured vast stretches of wilderness and suburbs. Thankfully, our own home near the edge of the chaparral has so far been spared, though ironically, the damage from September’s fire created a 5,000 acre firebreak that protected us from December’s much worse fire. Of course the damage in other neighborhoods, especially up in Ventura & Santa Barbara counties, and before that in Sonoma, has been cataclysmic, again historically so. I’ve lived on this coast all my life, and to see it decimated like this is heart-shattering.
In the face of wildfire, it’s easy to lose faith in our ability to recover, or even to protect ourselves from the destruction itself. It’s terrifying and unpredictable. There were nights when the LA Fire Chief told us literally to “sleep with one eye open” in case of sudden evacuation. I’m trying to stay out of politics for Christmas, but I can’t go without saying that the people currently running our American government are adding to this sense that the things about our society we love, the systems that keep us safe, could be dismantled and destroyed at any minute. In fact, with legislation passed and signed this month, the destruction has begun.
This Christmas, I choose to have faith.
I choose to have faith that in the face of destruction, there are people who will rebuild and reinvent and continue to create new life, new opportunities, to care for each other. I choose to have faith that in the face of evil, there is goodness, and that goodness is a force in the universe unto itself, and that goodness is expressed, if we choose it to be, in humanity, in ourselves. I don’t have much faith in religious institutions at all any more, but I realize now I’ve never lost my faith in what Christians would call the Light of God within humanity. The forces of destruction are real, and we band together over Christmas in our closest family units to share stories and mark the passing of time with traditions our families have given us, and traditions we create for ourselves, our children, and all our loved ones, to bring each other Comfort and Joy, to recharge our batteries together as we prepare for the work ahead, the work of bringing goodness to our world.
Merry Christmas to All, and Happy New Year.