Storm coming in. Photograph 2018 Rebecca Lawton.

Morning walk on the dry lakebed, before the day’s oppressive heat. Even at dawn, smoke clouds the air. A fire threatens to sweep down to the valley floor, having grown from a small puff of gray I happened to glimpse at three a.m. five nights ago. Heat lightning had roused me.

Now sixteen thousand acres of forest are burning. By night the trees are fearsome, dayglo torches; in the light, entire mountains are obscured by an ever-present gray shroud.

Two months ago, I left my long-time home and community to move to the central Oregon desert. The October before, Paul and I had gone through the Sonoma firestorms with our neighbors and friends. Connections were strengthened by the fire; neighborhoods coalesced around the common threat. For decades we’d poured our energy into the valley, into building a life there. The Sonoma that emerged from the firestorms was a stronger Sonoma.

Therefore the decision to move was made more difficult by the fires—not in a way I’d anticipated.

Certainty one day, indecision the next. Even when packing, sorting, tossing out, tearing up, I felt reluctance. Releasing things was difficult, yes, but much harder was the letting go of all that we’d held close. With thoughts of change came a storm of emotions, not unlike thunderheads moving over the desert.

First, the hint of clouds up high. Then the coalescing of cumulus, heavier and black bottomed. Next the pounding of wind and rain and awesome noise. Then movement, followed by gradual easing, letting it all blow over.

Afterward, the air clears. The understanding comes that no matter how intense the feeling, it passes. Winds subside—not quickly or easily sometimes, but they do settle down.

This fire, this monster growing on the ridges over Summer Lake, reminds me that everyone, everywhere, is facing change—acknowledged or not. The storm of change. The challenge.

Since dawn, a young red-tailed hawk has been hunting mammals in the long grass near my house; he misses more often than not, returning to grip his wooden fencepost with empty talons. I think of my generation’s most hollow phrases: It is what it is. It’s all good. No worries. In my Buddhist readings, I’ve read that even Siddhartha said something similar: It is as it is.

Then yesterday I read this haiku by the poet Issa from the 18th century:

Full moon;
my ramshackle hut
is what it is.

We can’t escape it. The hawk keeps at his hunting all day. The firefighters—ranchers, farmers, neighbors, friends—will fight the fire all night. Taking change as it comes—we’ll do it. What else to do?—it means survival.

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