Needless to say, seeing our property including a cabin, mobile home, countless beautiful mature trees, and our small vineyard incinerated by the Wallbridge fire took a lot out of me. It seemed that nature was telling us, “you don’t belong here… this land is remote, wild, and cannot be tamed by humans. Feel fortunate that you and your family were spared and stay away!” In some ways, this is probably true, as this land is very remote, not easily accessed by fire or emergency crews and I think wildfires, mudslides, and occasional earthquakes will always be a part of it. On the other hand, I think and hear a voice saying, “If you can accept that fires will occur, the earth will move, and this land will never be entirely tamed, then you might be able to help it in a small way and enjoy what it has to offer much like the other animals and plants that call it home do.”
I started thinking, “why did we buy this property in the first place?” The answer is pretty simple and still resonates with me, we bought this land as an investment in preserving nature. It was never intended as a real estate investment that we expected a handsome return on, nor did we ever intended to develop it into a sprawling “trophy” compound, or even a retirement home. We simply wanted to take some of our savings and invest in preserving nature, and as a fringe benefit, we would have a “special” place that we could go and bathe in nature with family and friends. Honestly, that was our motivation and thinking. I mean you can invest your money in all kinds of things, but we felt that there is potentially no investment that is more enduring and beneficial to many as an investment in protecting rural land in perpetuity. Particularly if the land serves as a crucial headwater for local riparian paths, hosts an ideal growing site for some of the world’s most important plants and trees, and provides habitat for a rich mix of unique wildlife.
So, remembering and getting back to our original motivation in buying the property, really helped eliminate any regret, remorse or second thoughts about what the fire had done to our human belongings and whether or not I wanted to be a part of the future of this land. In fact, it really made me realize that now that everything has burned, we have the essence of what we initially were truly searching for, a place to preserve nature from human development. More importantly, the land had what it wanted and needed, essentially a fresh start, with many of the invasive plants (scotch broom, blackberries, etc…) incinerated and the overgrown forest cleared for renewed growth of indigenous plants and trees that have evolved to flourish with the cycles of wildfire here.
Interestingly, and on a related note, shortly after the fire, I was laying in bed listening to a radio program, maybe it was a podcast I don’t remember, about this village in Japan that re-builds this large Shinto shrine (Ise Jingu) every twenty years, whether it needs it or not and including tearing down the old shrine. This process has been repeated 62 times over the last 700 years. Apparently one of the cornerstones of the Shinto belief system is the process of birth and renewal and this act of re-building the shrine is a process in which re-establishes “purity” through renewal. Not to digress, but according to a book on Japanese Religion (Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo, 1915) “Shintoism” includes the belief of “Kami”, a supernatural force pervasive in many things, “… somewhat analogous to the Western ideas of the numinous and the sacred. Kami are seen to inhabit both the living and the dead, organic and inorganic matter, and natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and plagues; their presence is seen in natural forces such as the wind, rain, fire, and sunshine.” Wow, hearing this was like a lightning strike, making it very clear to me that I shouldn’t walk away from this personal event and land, rather it should be embraced like a welcome door opening before me!
Getting back to the point, now that I had processed this fire and the destruction it had caused and had tapped into motivation to move forward, what should I/We do? I think as humans we like to plan, make, and build, always trying to organize and create structures that are useful to and that embody us. We tend to spend little time just letting nature organically shape things, it’s almost like this slow process makes us feel nervous or out of control. Instinctively, it seems when we’re put in nature our species want to clear trees, build roads, create large comfortable, and humanly appealing structures that photograph nicely. Not that this is all bad, but I want to be conscious of this and not feel the need to rebuild in a way that is the same, bigger, better or more comfortable for humans than it was before. Similarly, although I want to be a good steward of the land, it’s hard to say that as humans we really can agree on or know what it means to be “a good steward of the land”. For example, does clearing all the dead trees and then burning or removing them really help the forest? Does, adding erosion control material and spreading indigenous seeds to land that is now prone to erosion ultimately help the land or should we let slide what’s going to slide and grow what’s going to grow?
What I do know is that I still want to hold on to this land and visit it frequently. So, there are some simple things that I can do that are obvious and will help, for example:
- Make It Safe – Get rid of trees, limbs, human garbage, etc… that jeopardize the safety of humans, animals, and plants.
- Eliminating Invasive Species – This is the best opportunity we’ll have in our lifetime to remove invasive plant species. I intend to focus on eliminating emerging Scotch Broom and Blackberry growth to the best of my ability.
- Indigenous Trees & Grasses – This is a great time to re-plant and harbor the re-growth of many tree species that have been logged here over the last century. In particular, I intend to focus on trying to re-establish the redwoods, madrone, and oak species in the area that have been lost.
- Headwater & Streamflow Enhancement – Anything we can do personally or collectively through the collaboration of other local agencies to enhance streamflow and habitat along Pena Creek will be done.
For now, that’s the plan. I’m sure in the coming months and years more opportunities for acting as a good human steward for this land will present themselves. In addition, I’m sure we’ll act as humans do and try and re-build a structure or two that makes our interaction with this untamable land more comfortable for us. I’ll leave these adventures for future ramblings.