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  • Writer's pictureMetta

Smoke and Fire

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

(This was written in August 2020)

I could not sleep. Part of it was my mind sorting through ideas and trying to put pieces together. The way emotions and experiences, hopes, and wishes, all sloshed around. Part of it was the heatwave, another moment of this ever-increasing warming of the Earth. The usual cold and damp air turned to still and hot and dry air. The doorknobs had been almost too hot to touch outside during the day.

Around three AM I was fully awakened by howling wind and the boom of thunder. A thunderstorm is a rarity here, and a big long wave of them came through one after another. The trees violently shook, the murky sky illuminated by lightning strikes, the pit-pat of large raindrops on hot dry ground. The smell of that water evaporating on the hot pavement.

I went for a hike mid-morning, the temps were finally in the 80’s, not 90’s and above. I didn’t want the reasons behind why the canyon was so empty, but I appreciated that my trip was very solo. I smelled the herbal smell, with sweetness and cinnamon, from the end of summer vegetation. I felt it smooth some of the rougher edges and the surroundings gave me a spoonful of calm. I thought of a favorite reverend I know saying with authority “There is a balm in Gilead”. There is medicine here, a spiritual medicine that can heal. There is medicine, there are medicines, in this time. I saw adult quail with their tiny babies, peeping at each other. And two different kinds of birds with blue wings, one type very large, the other very small. I thought of the Crow people being able to count the time until summer on the tongue of a catch-and-release Chickadee.

I asked what I should learn from my relatives, looking at the plants and animals. No clear message this time. This was fine. I think it’s enough sometimes to just share the space with such sweetness and not take anything, not even a message.

I looked out and could see Mt. Diablo. The Ohlone called the mountain Tuyshtak, meaning "at the dawn of time". For Miwok and Ohlone it was a point of creation. Smoke was rising from behind the mountain, wildfires sparked by the lightning in the night. A runner went by and paused, looking at the rising smoke in fear. We looked at each other, only able to register alarm through the emotions of our eyes because we both were wearing masks due to the pandemic - we didn’t have words.

A few months earlier had I hiked to the top of Mt. Diablo, and was confused when I got to what I thought was the peak, and it was a large parking lot. Turns out I was not far from the summit, the parking lot was so people could drive up the side of the mountain and then get out of the car and visit the summit. There are antennas all over the actual peak. A sign indicated that they are old radio antennas and scheduled to be removed. I missed the sage bushes that I had stumbled around in and the dragonflies that had been all around, all experienced right before the expanse of pavement. I think it’s important outdoor spaces are available even if you can’t physically do a hike as I can. But I also just marveled at the expanse of pavement and was like “really though, like this?”. This is a sacred mountain. I believe all mountains are.

During my hike after the storm, I watched airplanes arrive and leave at the Oakland airport. One of the important things we could do at this time is to curb airplane emissions. Bearing witness to the relentless continuation of what is killing us, especially in countries with all the riches and privilege, and greatly harming people with less. The contrasts – the way clouds were scrambled across the sky, the bay filled with murk, those airplanes, and the smoke over Mt. Diablo.

The fires were put out on Mt. Diablo, but the fires that started in Napa Valley were so large they created a massive mushroom cloud of smoke. It was like a bomb had gone off. The fires of the summer became so enormous that one day there was no sun, only a deep red sky.

Thirty-Two: The square feet of Arctic summer sea ice cover that one passenger’s share of emissions melts on a 2,500-mile flight

It’s complicated. And it’s not ok to be in the game of throwing around shame on individuals for climate change. I don’t need to blow unprocessed trauma on other people. I have a list that goes on and on internally of what I contribute to and have contributed to. I do believe there need to be actual solutions and changes being made, rather than doing so little when we are already in deep on this, especially for those of us with choices. To support folks that don’t have those choices, this means lifting their voices too. And corporations should not be treated as individuals. The only way out of this is through.

I get lost in despair over the Earth. I read about and see what is going on right now, and know the scientific projections. I revere this Earth and all beings. The damage is on so many levels, and compounding other injustice. I can drown in this. Drown in loss, drown in fear, drown in longing for this to not be happening.

While hiking today I thought of my friend that is of the first people of the U.S. With the last presidential election (45) when so many were mourning, she reminded me not to say this is the worst thing that ever happened. So many people have watched their world end, one way or another, and still continue to watch the destruction and the dominoes fall.

So in my trying to keep my nose above the water, the principles of Emergent Strategy from Octavia Butler via Adrienne Maree Brown are keeping me afloat. The structures of harm and power and colonialism don’t have to be a part of attempts at change, and shouldn’t be.

Guiding principles

  • Small is good, small is all, the large is a reflection of the small

  • A conversation that only these people can have at this time in this room

  • Change is constant

  • There is always enough time for the right work

  • Time. So many kinds of time. Don’t get seduced by linear too-fast productive capitalist time. Don’t let the fear of the ticking clock of climate change paralyze myself with fear, lead me to shut down, drown in despair. When deep in meditation 1 minute of linear kronos time can feel like hours. Make the time to look deep, deeply listen, so much harm comes from rushing.

  • Much of carbon output could be helped if slowing down happened. If the belief was there was plenty of time to walk to the store and back on that errand. If the belief was taking time is valuable, precious, worthy of love and attention. If beings were at the center, rather than being productive at the center

  • Redefining productive - nothing grows forever. Nothing should. Things that grow forever are things like cancer. There is a reason why there are cellular checkpoints.

  • Never a failure, always a lesson

    • I come from shaming culture, where mistake = repercussion and that mistake never being forgotten/forgiven. Failure is one of the absolute dreaded worst. But what if it is reframed, and then linked with adaptability, flexibility, and nonlinearity?

    • What if it was like the apology approach of Mia Mingus? “What if accountability wasn’t scary? It will never be easy or comfortable, but what if it wasn’t scary? What if our own accountability wasn’t something we ran from, but something we ran towards and desired, appreciated, held as sacred? What if we cherished opportunities to take accountability as precious opportunities to practice liberation?”

  • Trust the people

  • Move at the speed of trust

    • There are so many reasons for a lack of trust (HELLO HISTORY), and I want to hang this over my door so I remember every time I go anywhere.

  • Focus on critical connections, not critical mass - build the resilience by building the relationships

    • Creating more possibilities for us to be on this planet – the most vibrant ecosystems are the ones that are the most biodiverse – its good there is that wild diversity and networks – there is abundance in the networks – there are lots of ways

  • Less prep more presence

    • Why I finally created my blog.

    • As a recovering perfectionist, it is so easy to focus on prep. To take life out of interaction and presence through preparation and assuming ‘what will be” and what is the right direction. Making the space for not-knowing is important and powerful.

  • What you pay attention to grows

    • This is so important to me. I can focus so much on what is wrong. Not spend the energy on imagination and dreaming and being in community to move towards a rich biodiverse rich possibility.

(Picture is of the red sky reflected, and ashes, on my car during the fires last summer)

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