Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

© 2009 Oona McOuat

I hear the not-so-distant whirl and roar of helicopters. In Hawaii, this meant lava-viewing tourists and the pot-hunting Green Harvest. In Nicaragua, it meant war. But on this dry day on Salt Spring Island, it means fire.

The mountain to the back of me is going up in flames. Or a part of it is. From my place in the valley I don't see any plumes. I don't smell any smoke. Although I do not know for sure, I figure this must mean the wind is blowing the fire away from me. Yesterday, as a tiny spark ignited on a brown, withered piece of grass or a weightless twig, the spark becoming a flame, the flame becoming a fire, I felt an odd and lingering anxiety. It wasn't until early evening that a woman at the grocery store told me Burgoyne Bay was on fire. My first thoughts were of the mountain.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

Those of you who follow my musings know this mountain has been my sacred place, a place of solace and connection, an anchor in a time of change. Over the past two years I have been naming the landmarks I pass as I wind my way up the hill: Siwash Rock, Nettle Patch, Maple with the Hollow Trunk. I revel in how easy things are between me and these almost daily companions. There are no expectations, no demands, just an all-encompassing, steady sort of grace. Now, as I stand in line at the check out counter, I can't help but wonder, the next time I see them, will they be black and charred? Will I still be able to feel their spirits?

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

The second thing I think about is my home. Is it in danger? Will I be able to get back? Is there a possibility of evacuation? A part of me feels I should rush back to find out, but I know I need to go swimming. All day I have been waiting for the lake to hold me. I want, I need, to float and think of nothing but the gentle rocking, the cradling, the sweet release…

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

So, I dive into the lake, her holy water supporting my physical and mental weight. Time and tension melt away and I am pulled into a green and dreamlike well where all is well. Being human or maybe just being me, I can visit this peace but I can't always dwell here. Nevertheless, I am perpetually in awe of how effortlessly the water can remind me of my source. At last, my cells and my psyche have been permeated in the nameless yet tangible gift of the lake, and I pull myself out, dry off, and prepare to face the fire on the mountain.

As I drive, I see telltale wisps of smoke, but no obvious roaring inferno. When I arrive home everything - except for the fire bombers overhead - seems normal. I make a quick mental list of what I will take with me if I am forced to flee: my harp, my laptop, my list of phone numbers, some photos, perhaps…. And I reflect on the twisted relationship between nature and humans - she who provides, we who screw up…

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

As much as some of my best friends are trees and cetaceans and bodies of water, I know they have every right to pull away and harbour resentment. They really would be quite justified in becoming vigilantly anti-human. You see, it hasn't rained here for over a month. I know that isn't "normal." The fire on the mountain is yet another result of global climate change. And as much as I love swimming in warm water, the lake is a lot warmer now than it's been since I've lived here. Last year it took until August to reach this temperature; this year it was balmy even when I first started swimming at the end of May.

This morning, as I go outside to take the laundry off the line, the noise of the firefighter's flying overhead triggering my agitation,  I hear a different kind of buzzing. I see a single honey bee heading for the lavender.

Photo by Sharon Lapkin

Maybe the rest are busy somewhere else, I posture, but there were lots of them last week. Or was that last month? 

Honey and Holy Water.… 

As I do an awkward, single-handed, sheet-must-get-folded-but-not-touch-the-dusty-ground sort of dance, my new album title runs through my head.

The official blurb says this CD flows with urgency and wonder. And as I stand on the brown grass in the dry heat surrounded by plumes of smoke and not many pollinators, I wonder if I can use my words and music and presence as a performer to help get this message across: "Humans you can and must change your greedy, lazy, unconscious, water and earth harming ways" - while somehow embodying the wonder-full, miraculous, benevolent, luscious essence of nature herself?

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

Can I let this fire on the mountain ignite, not despair, but desire? Desire to live fully. Desire to love completely. Desire to face the fire and say - no shout: "This beauty must, this beauty can, this beauty shall prevail."

Photo by Kmax

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