"Sunflower"
2017 Nuns Fire, CA (south of Santa Rosa)
"Healing After Wildfire" Series

The bright yellow sunflowers
    burst through spring
        with no memory of winter

-Genny Lim, Jan 2019
SF Jazz Poet Laureate

2017-2018

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Healing After Wildfire   7/31/19

 

According to S.F. Bay Area Miwok Native American Indian legend, the White-footed Mouse, named Tol-le-loo, emerged from the cold Sierra Nevada Mountains to steal fire from the Valley people below. The Mouse enchanted the Valley people with the music of his flute, was invited into their homes, and they soon fell asleep by lullaby. The Mouse seized this opportunity to take the fire by hiding it in his flute and escaped. He climbed the top of Mt. Diablo and built a great fire that lit the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including the blue Sierra Nevada mountains to the east where the Mountain People lived. Coyote-man wanted to steal the fire, but suddenly the fire shot up into the sky and became the Sun. The remains of the fire were placed by the people in the buckeye tree and the incense cedar tree. From that time on, the Mountain People made their fire from the bow-drill to grow hot embers by the friction of the wood by these two trees.

 

Fire is a sacred metaphor in many indigenous cultures that is shared with family, friends and neighbors. As modern society grows and disconnects from the Earth, fire has become feared. The past 100 years of large-scale mechanized wildfire suppression by the U.S. Forest Service, caused the accumulation of flammable material on the forest floor, which contributes to larger fires today. The media-hype of more fire may negatively affect forest management policy, by being used as a pretext for post-fire logging and biomass energy production, even though it is environmentally green to keep the carbon in the ground for natural land recovery. 

 

In recent years the media is sensationalizing fire, especially after the 2017 Fires from the Tubbs, Nuns, Thomas, and the 2018 Fires from the Holy, Woolsey, Carr, Mendocino, and Camp. These fires collectively represent the largest acreage, greatest loss of lives, number of displaced people, and number of destroyed buildings, in the history of California. More fires are reported in the forests of the western U.S., Canada, Portugal, Australia, and others. Forest fire severity and incidences appear to be on the rise throughout North America and the world.

 

The concept of “The Whole World is on FIRE!” may be connected with the media-stoked fear of climate change, however it is a natural and beneficial component to a forest, like rain.  It helps create wildlife habitat and stimulates nutrient cycling into the soil, a natural part of the ecosystem. Native American Indians and other indigenous cultures used controlled burns for protective fire-breaks. Yet decades of U.S. fire policy helped depress forest fire to a low in the 1950's, which is why one recent estimate indicated that the forests need approximately five times as much fire as we are experiencing presently.  An increase in fire compared to suppressed levels from the past century is a desirable recovery to continue the natural cycle of burn/grow.

 

In 1911, the Laymance Real Estate Company brochure described a neighborhood in the Oakland Hills which stated, "no one of African or Mongolian descent will ever be allowed to own a lot . . . or even rent any house that may be built there," per Flame and Fortune in the American West by Gregory L. Simon.  The greedy developers slapped in narrow winding roads to hamper and over-extend City fire-fighting resources. Eighty years later, a smoldering brushfire under City Fire Department watch, flared up during shift-change. Combined with strong Diablo winds, the fire advanced westward down the hill and jumped Highway 13 toward Oakland downtown. This resulted in the 1991 Tunnel Fire in the Oakland Hills. The taxpayers in the flats of Oakland helped subsidize the fire-fighting services and losses of the wealthier high-landers, yet 7 fires occurred in that same neighborhood since the 1911 real estate brochure. Better city planning, building codes, and social equality of race, class and women is needed to prevent a repeat of the same challenge with fire at the wildland-urban interface.

 

After wildfire, the charred-black apocalyptic landscape mostly disappears by the first spring with a fiery display of yellow mustard seed and sunflowers, purple lupine flowers, grasslands, new yucca or manzanita shoots, grasshoppers, dragonflies and banana slugs. Pacific fishers, sharp-shinned hawks, spotted owls, black-backed woodpeckers pecking on timber pole snags, and blue birds are drawn to the post-fire forests. The small and large animals soon follow. Nature has the ability to rejuvenate the soil and keep us healthy for all future plants and animals. About 85% of the nation’s fires were started by humans, yet nature can heal people from toxic smoke by using herbs and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, coriander seeds, dill, caraway, turmeric, and black pepper.

 

Nevada City was my first time visit in 1994, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the Mountain People, the Valley People below, and the Sun above. A mouse-like boy skipped merrily down the main street with bare white feet while enchanting the pedestrians with “Stairway to Heaven” on his flute. My partner inquired whether he was smoking something in his windpipe? Driving back west to the Bay Area, the Diablo winds howled with a response, “The People of this Mother-Earth will rise up to dance, cook, heal, and make community around the Fire.”

 

For more information about our future curated group art show on "Healing After Wildfire" for 2020 in Oakland and San Francisco, contact us at info@tearoots.org or 415.863.9603.