Meditations on Fire 🔥

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Choir Oil on Canvas
40 x 30″

Reflections and Connections

Recently I heard someone refer to our current era as the Pyrocene. That is, the epoch of fire. As I watched our forest and possibly our home burn on a live feed last night, with a mixture of grief and awe, something shifted in me. For the past week or so, we in our community have been following the progress of the #Caldor fire obsessively. The fire started 30 miles down the mountain, and within 16 days raged up towards Lake Tahoe and finally dropped into our valley yesterday. Like a slow motion punch in the face, we all saw this coming and knew it was going to hurt.

What shifted for me last night was a recognition gathering in my mind that if I think of this moment in terms of deeper time, perhaps tree time, this moment is a tree ring, a layer in the soil strata. In human time, the smoke might be detectable in the lengths of our hair, nails, lungs. It’s no accident our lungs branch like trees, leaves, lightning. We share a huge percentage of or DNA with trees, breathe in concert with them. Words like symbiosis, mutuality, exchange, and of course, community come to mind.

We are a community of humans here in South Lake Tahoe, who belong to a larger community of the forest. In some cultures, the word forest means world. Native Americans refer to fire as medicine. This moment is part of the natural cycle of forest, although human attempts to control nature have resulted in a deep imbalance. What we’re witnessing now is the pendulum swinging back and forth with more energy and momentum than we can process easily.

This painting had a working title of ‘Testament’, which referred to the dying trees outside our home next to the Upper Truckee River in Christmas Valley. I felt like I was bearing witness to them in their last years, that the painting and the action of recording them through an emotional lens was a testimony of some kind. They say trees take 200 years to grow, 200 years to live, and 200 years to die (give or take a few hundred depending on species and environment, I suppose). I saw their beauty every day as I walked along the river, clearing my head, forest bathing, sketching, aimless wandering. This is the artist’s life, as I experience it. Noticing, bearing witness.

I changed the title to ‘Choir’ when I was finished, after many hours of staring and processing. The trees seemed to me to be calling and responding to each other, the way singers and musicians do. It put me in mind of a bittersweet symphony, an ode to life.

Our neighbors whose cabin is to the immediate left of these trees bought this painting two weeks ago, and their deep relationship with the trees and forest spans generations. Kathy and Dan Vaughn asked me to write a piece to accompany the painting, and I didn’t know how to begin. This morning I woke with these words in my waking dreams, and so I wrote them down before they disappear into news, maps and the beginning of a long journey of collective grief, healing, rebuilding and regrowth.