the smoke kingdom

Our precious skies are filled with a dense layer of pale grey smoke. Right here, where we live, we are blessed that there are no fires burning…but they burn all around us. From all directions, the acrid smoke settles here; there are fires in Canada to the north, fires in eastern Washington and fires to the south in Oregon and California. We are sitting in some kind of a catch basin and it has caught, is overflowing, with smoke.

When we are able to catch a glimpse of Father Sun, his face is a deep burnt-orange, and speaks of fire, of danger. The sunbeams that kiss Mother Earth are the same strange, burnt-orange color; the gravel, the sandy path, they’re all…my brain simply says that’s the wrong color. An ominous heaviness looms overhead. Looking out the window, I can imagine it’s foggy, cool and moist—which would be a welcome change. Stepping out on the porch, the air is quite warm for here…and thick with smoke. As I write, I am aware that this smoke brings the message that somewhere there is great tragedy, danger and loss. I can hear the sounds of branches, then trees, crashing down as a fiery beast with a voracious appetite runs wild. I know that beast.

At nineteen-years-old I went on a grand adventure in the Pacific Northwest. One night we camped in a state park on the Oregon Coast—a gloriously beautiful spot in a forest of gigantic fir and cedar trees. In the middle of the night I awoke to people yelling. As I wondered what I was listening to…I smelled smoke. SMOKE!!! My lizard-brain leapt into action. I opened my eyes; bizarre orange and yellow flashes filled what used to be the inky-black, night sky. I could not make sense of what I was hearing, or seeing. My camping partner was already up and with an intensely stern voice I’d never heard come out of his mouth he shouted, GET UP WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!!! As I continued to make a disturbingly rapid shift from sleep to awake, I came to understand we were in a forest fire. Close. Very close.

The snapping and crackling and crashing all around was mesmerizing and terrifying, both. With no conscious awareness of what I was doing I put my big, heavy, leather hiking boots on. We were on foot…hitchhikers. We had no vehicle to carry us away. We just had to get out of there. It wasn’t until wherever we ended up next…and at this moment I have no recollection of that part of the story…that I came to know the incredible force and strength that erupts in an adrenaline rush, with the discovery that one is in the midst of a forest fire.

Wherever we landed, when I took off my hiking boots I discovered a bizarre modification to my right boot: there was a large, U-shaped piece of leather missing from the back of my boot. No jagged edges…the leather was just gone. I quietly stared at it. What happened? I kept wonderingWonderingWONDERING. I set the boot down and put the other one back on, using my thumbs and first fingers to pull the boot on. Then I saw it, could not believe it, but knew it was true. When I went to put on that boot, in the midst of terror and chaos, I pulled it on with such force, that my grabbing thumb and finger became instead, the bite of some kind of metal jaw to GET MY BOOT ON NOW. It was impossible to believe. But I saw it with my own eyes. Traced my finger along the smooth edges of that bite.

Memories of sounds, smells, feats of Herculean strength have seeped back in, these last days of living in the belly of the Smoke Kingdom. Back out on the porch, somewhere behind the thick curtain of smoke, Father Sun is closing in on the end of his travels for today. The fire I see and hear is from a long ago time, and this fire is somewhere far from here.

Before I go I will leave you with one little peek at an Oasis within all this smoke and fire. A month or so ago, a precious little Viola sprang out of the ground on her own…I’ve never planted such a flower here. While I was away for over a week, She miraculously braved the dry-no-rain-for-a-very-long-time and fierce pecking of very busy hens…She flourishes. She is presently carrying three, luscious, night-sky-purple flowers. Before I left I built a little rock fortress around her and gave her a little drink of our sweet well water, and somehow the voraciously curious and hungry hens did not see fit to ply up those stones or even rip at those delectable flowers. She LIVES! She is ALIVE and WELL.

Blessings as Grandmother Moon promises to shower us with ever more brilliant light in the night sky…she’ll be there, whether we can see her or not.