The Fire

Yom Kipper again and we are out for a walk to the beach, McClure’s Beach our favorite. It’s a weekday and the parking lot is empty. For us school is out and it feels good to play hooky with the special ness of a Jewish holiday, exotic in these parts. Anyway, the synagogue in which we have no interest is miles away. Yom Kipper, a ritual marker for the turning of one season. Can we be so bold as to want it our way anyway we feel like? To submit to the drone of ritual, that holds no inspiration, no real higher value save the companionable group identity. So out we go, into the world looking for a touch of mystery, of seeing it in the minutia of the world as its given, the world that holds something made in higher relief by our sanctioned truancy.

We decide to not go for the beach but set out to climb up the ridge that separates Tomales Bay from the Pacific—becoming a narrow peninsula ending at a land’s end point four plus miles out from the pavement. Endemic Tule Elk, dispossessed by dairy and meat cows since the Gold Rush, have been reseeded. The herd has grown already—about 18 now. It’s been a couple of years since the Park Service took possession of the peninsula from the dairy. The natural grasses and shrubs have made a come back. The deep ruts and scars from the sharp cow hooves are healing; Elk tread with a cushioned hoof, yielding to the grass. There is a cattle guard and fencing 3 miles from where we are parked that keeps cows out. It is swiftly becoming a border demarcating a kind of DMZ. A sharp contrast illustrating endemic health versus the ruin of dairy farming. with glimpses of what this land might have looked like after the last ice age 10,000 years ago

We climb the first ridge, a hill at first, intending to go the four miles out to the point. Approaching the second rise, a half-mile out, we see billows of smoke. Double-timing it, we crest the ridge and find a wall of flame 40 yards away. The change to flat heat is on us as soon as we can see the licking living flames. It’s hot on our faces. The flames seem to be moving away but laterally, then we see the firemen in yellow coats and then a big red pumper truck and a silver tanker. A fireman comes running over, furious. “This is a controlled burn” he says, “You get the hell out of here.” I’m feeling like I’ve got to make some stand for my boy who’s 10. This guy’s attitude is uncalled for; it’s just a grass fire. “Why weren’t there signs?” Why didn’t we know back in the parking lot?” I’m getting huffy, posturing, really, and then I see the fury edged with panic. He’s in a sweat; his controlled burn is out of control. “Lets swing around to the beach.” Which we do.

The beach is half a mile down hill from the pavement…. a wild mutable landscape, with big rollers coming in. It seems a calm lake compared to the living power of fire we’ve just seen. We bum around for a while in the sand; it’s a warm sunny fall day. Nice after all the chilly summer fogs, with one rare sunny day in 25. It’s too nice. We want to see the fire again so back up we go, steering clear of the firemen and watch them put out the last of it, leaving a smoking black devastation. We come back here often and see that that fire really gave a jumpstart to the natural landscape, sweet smelling Bush Lupine and Coyote Bush dominating with the Elk herd so successful (over 500 at this writing) they’ve had to export 70 of the population into the 10,000 acre wilderness area of the park.

Yom Kippur is the day when one confesses sin and makes promises for the coming year to be a better person. It seemed to us the fire we saw that day was a cleansing fire with the promise to take as sacred our responsibility to do good with what we have been given.

Special thanks to Bruce Farnsworth for his photograph of the Point Reyes’ Vision Fire. Check his blog http://blog.brucefarnsworth.com

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