Destruction and Creation in the Valley of the Moon Lessons from the fires of October.
Destruction and Creation is a fundamental theme in both the Hindu Upanishads and the Christian Bible, and it is imbedded as well in the laws of physics that dictate that while mass-energy can’t be created or destroyed, it can change form.
That’s small solace to anyone whose house and worldly possessions were reduced to ash in October—you can’t live in a home that’s been transformed into radiant energy and pure carbon—but it’s a helpful context in which to consider the future of our beloved Valley in a social, economic, ecological, cultural and even spiritual context.
No one who lived through the firestorm and has seen the incomprehensible damage it created can escape the feeling that life has changed. For some that change has been cataclysmic, for others merely incremental. But as with every cycle of creation and destruction, there is an old and a new, a death and a birth, an ending and another beginning.
We are, many would argue, at the starting point of another beginning. We may not recognize it, we may not act on it, but it’s there, the infamous opportunity buried in the heart of a crisis.
Fire is a powerful force, perhaps the ultimate symbol of creation and destruction. It fuels life—where would we be without the sun—and it consumes life. And from the beginning of human history we have manipulated fire, along with the energy it creates, to serve us.
So shouldn’t it be possible, if we’re willing to let it, for the fire that consumed so much of our Valley to help us rebuild it? How can it do that? By forcing us to examine the lessons it has delivered.
The first thing it has taught us is what an extraordinarily generous, compassionate, courageous, unselfish and capable group of people we are.
Together we fed, sheltered, clothed, cared for, supported and loved each other unconditionally and with astonishing speed, efficiency and grace. We did all those things the Bible tells us to do, hour after hour, day after day, while thousands of us fled our homes, while the fire burned and burned and burned. It was amazing. There were true heroes everywhere.
So, what if we took the next, much harder step, and harnessed that same love, compassion and energy to address the longer term, slow-motion crises we face in housing, hunger, cross-cultural communication, educational opportunity, ecological protection and economic diversity? What if we could leverage the crisis of a firestorm into an opportunity to reshape our future?The fire taught us how fire-prone we are, how flammable and fuel-filled is our landscape, and how generally unprepared we are to keep wildfires at a safe distance from our homes, or how to keep our homes at a safe distance from landscapes that too easily burn. It also taught us we have an urgent need for improved emergency communication tools and strategies, so that preparedness precedes the next disaster rather than following in its wake.
Fifty-three years ago, an almost identical fire, on an almost identical hot and dry autumn night, starting at an almost identical place in Nunns Canyon, burned toward and into the Springs, destroying 111 homes, 24 summer cabins and thousands of acres.
The lessons from that fire faded all too quickly.Also buried in the fulcrum of all the October flames was the message that a significant percentage of our population was and is dangerously vulnerable to even a temporary loss of housing and employment. We were and are at risk of losing an essential workforce without which we will suffer culturally, economically and demographically if we don’t work to preserve and protect it.
So what should we do? Maybe the first step is for each of us to accept some individual responsibility to become more involved in the conversation and the concrete steps needed to reshape our Valley’s future. Perhaps becoming familiar with the Sustainable Sonoma initiative (sustainablesonoma.net) would be a good place to start. Some will argue that taking concrete steps to do anything in Sonoma requires a consensus impossible to achieve. But there was no shortage of consensus in responding to the fires of October 2017. And maybe that’s the most important lesson of all.
In these pages we have tried mightily to present images and words that will provide both a record and an understanding of what happened here.
We hope you find value in it. And we hope you find inspiration as well to become involved in developing the future of the Valley of the Moon.
To that future,
David Bolling, Editor & Publisher, Valley of the Moon Magazine
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