Over the last year I apprenticed myself to the land burned in the CZU fires with the intention of learning how to navigate catastrophe. This year, other land in the US west is burning. May the land teach us how to witness and how to respond, not just to these fires, but to all of the catastrophes unfolding before us.
On August 16th, 2020 fires were ignited by lightning in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, California. My first visit to the burned area was on September 10th.
I stepped onto the land and immediately noticed that the ground was different. It was otherworldly, made of fine ash that puffed around my boots and stuck to my pant legs. The foundation of everything had been changed, the good nourishing duff of the forest floor was gone.
It is like this, isn’t it, when a catastrophe happens? That the very ground seems to shift under our feet. Everything feels off kilter, unbalanced, even surreal. And finding our bearings can feel impossible. It requires more attention, more care, to walk across this now unfamiliar terrain.
I would not know for weeks or even months what had lived and what had died in the fire. Trees that looked like they survived would still die and fall. It took time for the catastrophe to fully play itself out, for the losses to be known and the true extent to be revealed. I had long thought of catastrophe in nature and in my life as momentary, confined to a single place in time. But they are not, or not always.
There was a deep quiet in the forest as the effects of the fire continued to unfold. Animals had fled, including humans. What could not leave was destroyed, like the snail shells that turned to dust when I touched them, and bones that fell apart when I tried to pick them up.
While it was clear that things had changed drastically, it was unclear how it would continue to unfold, what would be left, what would be revealed, what would be truly lost. This is a liminal space, the in-between, where the unknown is palpable.
The land left me with a strong need for presence, for being with what had happened, for witnessing the continued unfolding of the event. The request I felt from the land was for dedication, to keep returning, to follow and notice. So often I have rushed over the uncomfortable and devastating parts of life, trying to hurry on to a place I was more at ease. But here, nature was going at its own pace, so much slower than mine. And the request was for me to slow down and be with the forest.
What does life look like when we go through something difficult? What happens in me when uncertainty is the only thing in front of me? What do I do in the in-between time?
Author: Jill clifton
Hi, I'm Jill. My intention with this space is to share how exploring the archetypes of motherhood can make room for us to be whole people within our roles of nurturing our children.