October 28th, 2003

abstract butterfly

The Thrill of it All

Sometimes the fun arises from things I cannot discuss. I finish a day with a sort of exhiliration I wish I could share, and then realize that I cannot share the details without compromising a confidence. I have a simple solution when this occurs--I don't share the details. But I can note that I am not sharing them, and perhaps I'll recall them later this way.

This year's Southern California wildfires cause me concern.
Wildfires happen every year in that part of California, and, in moderation, are a healthy part of the ecology. The chapparal uses periodic burns as a propagation technique. One of my favorite plants is the creosote bush. Its name derives from the fact that on a hot August day, it gives off a petroleum scent, rather like creosote. I love a July walk among creosote bushes in Vasquez Rocks park in the Santa Clarita Valley, which has this curiously pleasing sense of asphalt freshly paved. When the fires come, the creosote bush emits combustible material--burning (which leads, when rains return, to washout and seed spreading) is part of how it spreads.

Often, places like Malibu's fire-prone inland hillsides or brush canyons burn. It's a tragedy for folks when it does, but often the houses built there did not really belong in such fire-prone places to begin with. It's rather like the folks who build their homes on eroding slopes on the Pacific coast--it makes for spectacular footage, but it's really about foolhardiness as much as tragedy. I feel a curious mix of sympathy and "you should have known better" about these type of things.

But this year seems different. The fire is going places it usually does not go. I spare moments out of my day to worry about folks in California, and to hope for the best for firefighters and home-owners.

I remember once when I happened upon a small forest fire in the hillsides near Piru, about fifty miles from Los Angeles.
It was intriguing, and beautiful. But it was not dangerous--only chapparal was burning. This week's fire has knocked out at least 1100 homes, and killed 13 people, and no easy end is in sight. My thoughts are with those near the fire.

What would my life be if everything burned and I had nothing but, say, my wife, my dogs and a change of clothes? Different. Life would be different. I will forego the thrill of fire.

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