Category Archives: blog

The Whittier Fire slows down

The fire is at 83% containment. We can all breathe more deeply, the sky has returned to blue, and we think with grateful affection of the fire responders of all kinds who stepped up to fight for, and help our communities.

Those of us who recall other fires that seemed almost certainly vanquished still look every day and evening to check that there has been no break-out. But the weather has been reasonably kind, without the sundowners that were to blame on previous such occasions.

 

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The Whittier Fire Grows

2017-07-14 18.46.36

A photo from the street above ours and a map showing the Whittier Fire’s gains due to the sundowners. (Last night’s gains shown in appropriate fire red.)

Whittier fire map j 15

Whittier Fire has sent friends with their two dogs and cat, to house with us — great company, but we look at the weather predictions and cannot be happy about the sundowners and the proximity of the western flames to populated areas. We are not immediately affected but even as I type that, I say, how can I make such a statement when we have people taking refuge from the fire under our own roof?

I take note that our guests know their animals, and  put them together in the bathroom with their things. Thus a sense of a small controllable space for the animals with the company of fellows they know, and so they spent the majority of the time. We had prepared an outside run for the dogs, but I could see it was too much, too challenging to have so many changes, and too much strange space, however good our intentions. Happy pets to have people who understand what they really need. I’ll try to remember this if I ever have to evacuate my own pets to some refuge.

We could stand in the roadway last night and see distant flames over a ridge about two thousand feet up and to the West. Deep orange red leaping against the black, with a smudge of warm in the sky overhead. Overnight the fire expanded, fed by the winds, and containment dropped to 35%. Now, on this Saturday, we wait and wonder what the weather will send us next. There’s a suggestion that we will see more sundowner or Santa Ana winds– a bad prospect.

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The Whittier Fire, Thursday

Here’s the latest from KEYT. Some remarkably beautiful photos here.

Whittier Fire map 071317_1499983405116_7458798_ver1.0

No dramatic changes, but I know the drama is all on the ground, in that tedious and dangerous slog towards containment. The Whittier Fire has slowed way down, but some burning occurred on the south side, our side, you might say, of the fire in the past twelve hours. There’s some good in that, because it reduces future fire risk by decreasing available fuel, but it makes us all nervous.

There’s a sundowner in the forecast for tomorrow that has us concerned, because that might bring winds rushing down from the ridge into the populated coastal area.

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Whittier Fire Continues

Santa Barbara fire map with recent fires_1499724149968_7424712_ver1.0

The day has a color to it and a faint taste.  The Whittier Fire has burned over 10,800 acres so far, and the sky is hazed by a strange warm hue. From the detail map it seems that a fierce defense of the two peaks which carry most of our communications may have been successful, but as I noted before if any of you find it difficult to reach family or friends in this area of Southern California, don’t panic– communications may be challenged.

I can only salute the extraordinary fire respondents in all roles, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us who go about our daily lives with little more than a feeling of anxiety, refreshed every so often by a look at the alien sky. I think this will be a long fight.

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The Whittier Fire

whittier map_1499580725716_7400393_ver1.0This fire started yesterday on the other side of the great spine of mountains that runs West to East North of Santa Barbara. It sounds confusing to say we live in an area of California North of the Pacific Ocean, but that is true. Geological forces thrust our part of the state out like a bent knee.

The fire has been fast and destructive, causing many folk we know to evacuate. Pyrocumulus above the ridge of mountains has risen and dissipated repeatedly. The Whittier Fire quieted overnight, as wildfires usually do when night temperatures subside, but as this day warms we will see a lot of smoke and ash. I hope no fire responders meet any harm. The fire broached the ridge line once later yesterday– we really want to see it remain on the far side of the mountains if possible. But it’s some of the oldest chaparral around in rough ridged terrain, so time will tell. In an ecological sense it must burn, it’s supposed to burn, and that is the bottom line. However with our possible winds it might cause trouble this side of the peaks. On a nicer note we were woken a little after six by a rain shower– so unexpected it felt like a gift in this dry season of our year. Not enough to matter, except to our spirits!

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The photo above, taken from a friend’s front yard, misleads. The sun in the smoke was the color of ripest strawberries.

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Post SBWC 2017

2017-06-24 17.24.50

The above photo represents what I came home to, and with, after the writers conference.

After six days of intense interaction, and staying up late after rising early, I’m back at home feeling rather odd. What happens when you put a collection of mainly introverted writers in small rooms and invite them to help each other? Wonders, that’s what.

Yes, I went through strangely lonely and dark periods during the writers conference. I panicked I’d lost my touch, that I couldn’t see well enough to put one word after another in a worthy fashion. I heard marvelous, apparently perfect works by my fellow writers, and I doubted. I felt out of step, not so much with others, although that happened sometimes, but with my self. I was afraid I’d mislaid or damaged my writing voice. I felt like that person at a party who has no one to talk with, standing not quite part of any group, but trying to pretend he is, who keeps a smile on his lips because to do otherwise is to be pitiful, and to fall that low, is too far.

Terrifying the silence when you finish reading and you hear not a single response. You rearrange the sheets of your paper and all you can hear is them sliding on the polished wood of the conference table. Was I clear, did I commit cliches, or is even the action in my short story so obscure that no one dares begin a critique– oh hell, was I even speaking English? It’s two AM and what do I imagine I’m doing here? That man over there is yawning.

It’s terrifying to feel that other creators are trying to be kind–but they see you haven’t kept and nurtured the gift. It’s horrid to feel they lean over and speak the encouraging word because they are reflecting their own hearts, not any quality of yours.

I have been trying to create my whole life. That’s nice; we all know it’s a long apprenticeship. But what some part of my monkey brain forgot was this– a writer’s conference is never about you. Nor your work. It’s about the community of writers. I didn’t go in to win anything– I did at least understand that, long before the conference began,  but I did go in to regain my footing. That was my error– the wrong goal.

The goal? It’s to engage in the purpose of helping everyone regain his or her footing. I rediscovered that at last. By helping others, I began to see my own way. I started then to really hear what was said and made and shared. There is a rhythm to creation and sharing, and since creativity is meant for communication, there is a need to step deep into that shifting tide. No dabbling at the edge in the froth. For writers and artists there is an infinity ahead of making, and what that takes is humility and hard work together. This is not the time for selfish doubts, for in-turning.

Introverts or not, now, we break barriers. We swim, far out of our depth.

I am swamped with sensations of loneliness and encouragement, with a gratitude to all my fellow travelers that thickens my voice, with a sense of loss, because I now sit alone. But that may be the biggest mistake. I don’t sit alone.

Now to work, while the remembered voices of friends sound in my brain, while their kindness and engagement glow in my mind. Enough light at last, to let me see my way.

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2017 Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference

I’m going. It’s been eleven years since I last had the free time to attend the conference in full, because when your husband is the dean of a little college inside a university, you have a lot of responsibilities that come due at the end of the year, and the indulgence of immersing yourself in a seethe of writers just isn’t possible.

 

Well this is 2017. I am looking forward to this. I want to meet writers full of that wild joy of wanting to share their creations, wanting to hone their craft, wanting to spend time in critique and experiencing new adventures in other creators’ writings. I will probably never forget the late night pirate session I attended at my first writers’ conference when an older gentleman rose from his seat with his musical to give us roles. Anne Boleyn was one character, stepping forth with her head tucked under one elbow…that didn’t impair her singing, you may be sure.

Those late night sessions hold some of my best memories of writing. I laughed so hard tears came down inside my nose when one woman read us her story of a skunk with its head trapped in  Peach Yoplait container, and how at the end of a sequence of risible but heart-twisting efforts, she succeeded in freeing it to live a peach-free life. After it sprayed her from purple bathrobe to fluffy pink slippers, that is.

Oh yes, Sunday night imagine me among these wonderful people, drawing a deep breath in anticipation at the table of the first pirate session. Starts at nine, goes to whenever. (Some years I’be managed to stay at it until four AM. I kid you not.) See you there?

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