Sydney Avey

Dynamic Woman — Changing Times

Wildfire and Other Distractions

Jul 21, 2017 | Writing California | 2 comments

The Detwiler wildfire has driven people in our neighboring communities from their homes, and it may be coming for us. Or not. First, let’s acknowledge that losing your home and livelihood (these are ranch lands) is devastating. For those on the sidelines, the disruption to our schedules is irritating, but the unpredictability is perhaps the most unnerving. You don’t know when it will strike, where it will go, how fast it will spread, or how long it will choose to burn.

The Detwiler fire that threatened to eat up the historic town of Mariposa has decided to bare its teeth at Groveland a week before we are supposed to visit family in Michigan and enjoy the Traverse City film festival. As seasoned mountain people, we know the drill. Gather necessities (meds, computers, clothes) and a few priceless treasures (art, jewelry, family photos), make arrangements for you pets, and be prepared to go. In this case, we have to decide whether to evacuate our stuff before we leave or take a chance.

Making peace with wildfire

A wildfire is not evil, it is a force of nature. A fire has a job to do. Fires clean up and restore the forest. It is we who have put ourselves in harms way. And we would do it again. I greatly admire the people I have met who understand this and do not take the disruption in their lives personally.

In truth, calamity can bring out the best in people. Kindness, compassion, prayerfulness, a can-do spirit, pulling together as a community–these attributes kick in despite how fractured our nation appears to be.

Catastrophe also reveals our weaknesses. Out of stubborness or fear, some people refuse to leave their homes when the odds turn against them. Unknowingly, they endanger themselves as well as firefighters and law enforcement tasked with protecting them.

 What I learned from the Rim fire 

  • You can’t game a fire. It has it’s own inscrutable agenda. Best to watch, wait, hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and leave when you are advised to by people whose job it is to keep you safe.
  • Rumors run amok. Identify trusted sources of information and ignore all accounts that do not come from eyewitnesses.
  • Firefighting is fascinating science. That we learned a lot from the Rim fire is evident in how the Detwiler fire is being managed. It appears that decisions have been made more quickly and appropriate resources commissioned earlier. Although the fire tax is controvesial, I consider it a charitable contribution toward equipping the agencies that save our property and our lives.

 Living in the forest

Knowing what we know, why are we still here? We ask ourselves that, and our kids challenge us on our choice to stay in the forest. When the sky turns urine yellow and sucks the oxygen from our lungs, we ask ourselves. But then the fire burns out and the skies clear. The sun glitters in the tree tops we view from our deck and the raptors soar gaily above our heads. A deer strolls up the hill trailed by spotted twin fauns. Wild turkey titter and peck and California quail pit-pit across our front yard.

It’s in my blood, these tender mountains of California. I can’t listen to California by the Kingston Trio without tearing up and reaching for a wine bottle. We have squandered our legacy but I must have been imprinted at birth by the beauty of the California coast, mountain ranges, and valleys, creativity, productivity, resiliance, and hope. I don’t know a soul who has visited Yosemite and not been overcome by its majestic grandeur. Sheer beauty infuses us with the timeless nature of God, deep peace, and soaring joy.

The Warrior, A Tribute  

In the Rim fire, I saw the spirit of some ancient being. I’ve seen it in the eyes of buffalo, who survive despite historic ravaging. I’ve heard it in the stories of homesteading pioneers and tribal Indians, who both attacked and defended to preserve their ways of life. My poem, The Warrior, A Tribute,  was published by Manzanita Press in Out of the Fire, A Calaveras Anthology, a chronicle of the Butte fire that devastated mountain communties in Calavaras.


He jumps the canyon rim,

fist pumps the air, bellows belligerent smoke

and descends like a marauding tribe

to bully the dry forest

rooted and mute in his path.

We scamper from disturbed nests,

form columns, arm ourselves

with courage and technology.

He stomps through, keeps going.

His savage red face paints

across miles of sky.

Heart hot and black

pumped with stolen oxygen,

driven by a century-old hunger

he devours acres of brush,

picks his teeth with the tops of trees,

and pulls his dragon tail deftly

out of harm’s way.

We bring in reinforcements,

buzz his head, use our diplomacy,

invite him to go elsewhere.

He will go wherever he pleases.

His specter rises in clouds

open-mawed, empty-eyed,

an ancient soul named Legion.

He will go, but not before he has

scalped our forest,

seared our lungs,

and settled the score.




  1. Marie Sontag

    Wow – well down, once again! My soul soaked up every sentence, especially this one: “Sheer beauty infuses us with the timeless nature of God, deep peace, and soaring joy.”
    The two perspectives in the poem really helped to lay bare the struggle you spoke about in the blog. I’m so glad I’m on your mailing list!


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