Fire Season #7
No matter where you go the fires go with you
This is a free post from The Real Sarah Miller, my seventh about fire season which, unfortunately, is about all I can think of right now. I do hope that people who can or want to pay will support this newsletter. Those who can’t or don’t feel moved to for whatever reason don’t have to. Everyone who reads this is appreciated.*
Ruthie and I have been in Los Angeles since Thursday morning. It’s Wednesday afternoon. I initially stayed with one friend on the Eastside, now I am at another friend’s on the Westside. The bad news is that in this part of town you can literally watch the light drain from someone’s eyes when they realize you yourself are not rich; the good news is it is beautiful, and my friend is being kind and gentle and generous.
Here in Los Angeles, not too far from the water, the air is clean and cool. It even rained a little yesterday, barely really, but I still turned my face up to it and admired the drops on the pages of the book I’m reading: P.D. James’ Death of an Expert Witness. T. told me the other day, not unkindly, that I have trouble regulating my emotions, and this is true. Reading this book, with its descriptions of English weather in the mid-70s — of fog, coolness, and rain (before English rain became more slow-moving and flood-bearing and potato-ruining) — I want to crawl into it. It’s not just an innocent fantasy. The depth of my desire to live in an East Anglia spring in 1977 makes my fingers throb. The characters complain and I want to hiss at them to go outside and stare in wonder at the mud.
A friend in Nevada City asked me how long I was going to stay in Southern California. I just wrote back “ugh.” Then I sent a photo of Ruthie, to be something like cheerful. A few hours later I read (more) terrible and sad news about the spread of the Caldor Fire into Lake Tahoe (close to where I live), about the 600 plus homes lost, and how two fires within weeks of each other were the first ever to cross the Sierra. The first ever. Learning this filled me with so much terror and dread I felt like I might pass out.
I wrote back, “It’s nice to be here but there is no escape from the sadness and the horror.” She wrote back, “No. We carry it.”
Also, though it was smoky at home I didn’t have to explain to anyone what was going on. People in Los Angeles want to know if my house is “near the fires.” Yesterday I replied “yes and no” to this question, and the person wanted to know if my house had burned down. When I said it had not, they made a sound indicating optimistic satisfaction and exited the conversation.
I am middle-aged, but did not really settle until the last few years. I finally met a decent, attractive man with real feelings and an actual intellect. I felt stable in most ways. I found a routine that was not perfect but that was good. After years of struggling I was no longer broke. After an early adulthood that was often fun but more often lonely and unstable, it was all such a profound relief to finally feel safe.
I don’t feel safe anymore. I’m back where I started, but without the hope of getting it right, because it’s not up to me. I can’t mature my way into feeling less uneasy about something that’s already bad and going to get worse and worse. “Every acre can and will burn someday in this state,” the Cal Fire chief said this week. A friend of mine wrote on Twitter, “California is the only place I have ever wanted to live. I have no idea how to plan for the future,” and I thought, yup. The vastness of this problem, the number of lives affected (and I know it’s not just here) is so hard to wrap the mind around that most people probably don’t even try. I try. I probably should just stop trying. I should maybe just let life do its thing.
The fires persist and grow and grow. New ones pop up. It often seems more than I can bear. Sometimes I just have to put my hand on the dog and remind myself that I am alive, I am safe, and that for now, everything is OK. Sometimes this works. But sometimes the softness of the dog’s fur just makes me feel worse, the simple tenderness of it no match for the cruelty of the world, for the fact that oil companies are still drilling, for the laughable conversations I am forced to hear about sustainability and “making a difference.”
Ruthie is sitting at my feet right now. Her head is resting on my left ankle, my right foot rests lightly on her left paw. She opens and closes her mouth a few times, getting ready to fall asleep. We will take a walk later and look at the ocean. I will meet an old friend for dinner. I almost wrote to this friend “I might cry at dinner but it’s ok,” but then I remembered he is probably miserable too (who isn’t?) and maybe doesn’t need to hear that. So I wrote instead “I’m depressed but still entertaining as ever.” Then I sent a picture of Ruthie.
* I write about other things too, and have one podcast called Very Specific Interviews, and another one, about movies my friend Joshua Clover and I haven’t and won’t see, called Didn’t See It, Don’t Need To. Also if you signed up for this because you are waiting for a story about Joe Rogan being a dick to me like 20 years ago it’s coming this afternoon lol