Hello 2020: We are on Fire

It seems like yesterday I was hiding in my room on Sonoma Mountain on NYE when it turned 2000 and we were worried about Y2K. I worked at a news webzine at the time and everyone was freaking out about the new decade. I’d be moving to New York City within a few months, so my life was about to change. I hid under my covers, wishing life wasn’t going to shoot me out like a cannon. There is something about my mom’s house, up on the beautiful mountain top, that despite everything going on in the world, it stays primarily the same as I remember it as a four-year-old. The trees surround our house and it’s nothing but endless mountains and quiet. The sounds are only the trees moving in the wind and the birds above. I moved to New York in 2000 and I’ve always been this mountain girl who lives in the big city; always longing for the view from my quiet mountain-top.

In 2010 NYC, I was back at my mom’s house on Sonoma Mountain, but this time I with my baby daughter, Maya and my husband, who decided he could go out for New Years Eve with some of our friends. I wasn’t worried about the end of the world per-se. Nine years ago, with Obama in The White House and a baby to care for, it was okay to worry about the immediate: my child, my own fatigue, wanting to lose the baby weight.

To say that with Trump’s ascent, my anxiety and fears have escalated is to say I drink water. My anxiety about our world, my children’s immediate safety and their future on this planet is not misplaced. I’m scared that my kids will get shot going to public school. I’m scared about all the racism and hate crimes going on around the world, particularly the uptick in the U.S. It’s like we are all on fire, from our souls. I know there is this dystopian end of times feeling that is creeping in all of us who are semi-awake. We are living with the very real anxiety that there is more to worry about that we know or can fully comprehend. Our earth is on fire, it’s in our face — it’s real. And what are we going to do about it? What can we do?

In 2017 when the Tubbs fire or Northern California firestorm engulfed the area where I was raised (Sonoma County) and both my parents’ homes (my parents are divorced) nearly burned down (and many friends lost homes) it was an anomaly, something I’d never experienced in my life: Fire. Red, glowing, out of control — fire. It took everything from my dear friend Felicia, who had a house near Kenwood (where she hosted by baby shower and many parties) a mere 30 minute drive from my mom’s burned to the ground in about 40 minutes.

I was on the East Coast during the 2017 Sonoma County fires. I woke at 4am Vermont time with the oddest feeling. I picked up my Iphone and flipped through my Face Book feed. The last image I saw was an old friend, Sylvia, who snapped a picture of her feet propped up on an outdoor stove from her home located in Coffee Park, Santa Rosa. The caption: “Happy.” I smiled. Within 10 minutes I got an email from the City of Santa Rosa that said the area where my dad and stepmom lived, about 10 minute drive from Coffee Park was being evacuated because of a fast-moving fire. Fire? My dad’s house is surrounded by redwood trees with one road out.  I had no idea that the fire had already spread everywhere, all over the city and surrounding area. By the time I looked back at my Face Book page, it was like hell had erupted everywhere that I loved. My friend Sylvia next posted: “I just drove away in my pajamas.  Several houses ablaze. The neighborhood is on fire. Fire on my house.” The next picture I’d see on Face Book is her house gone and only the outdoor fireplace standing.

I found out later, that it was only luck — the wind changing directions and a crew of volunteer Buddhist Monks (lead my old boyfriend Demian Kwong) who saved our beloved Sonoma Mountain and my mom’s house (the house I was born in). My mom mentioned the call she got at 4 in the morning to evacuate from a neighbor: “There is fire on the mountain. It’s glowing red, I can see it. I’ve never seen anything like this before. We need to leave. You have 40 minutes.” By the time I called my mom, thinking I’d be waking her, she was in a Denny’s at the bottom of our mountain with a pack of neighbors. My eyes were wide open; I was terrified and I could do nothing. At the same time, on the other line, my dad, stepmom and their animals didn’t know where to go. I was gulping hard, holding steady trying to direct them from watching a combo of news reports and following Face Book feeds. They were driving through a hell zone and ended up in the middle of it, but decided to buckle down and try to wait it out in my dad’s office “because it was a brick building.” That’s when my friend Felicia texted: “My house is gone.”By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha) while forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes. In total, the Northern California fires killed 44 people and hospitalized at least 192 others, making this one of the deadliest wildfire events in the United States during the past century.

Climate change is here. This is now our reality. The next summer, my other best friend’s house nearly burned down in an area 30 miles away. And then LA burned and burned. This past October, because of another fire nearby my dad and stepmom were again  evacuated. Australia is on fire, the Amazon…this is our new reality.

There is no Abalone season because the kelp are dying. Our Oceans are dying. Fisheries are closing along the west coast because there is not enough fish. Our earth is in peril. We are on fire. This is life and death. Please wake up. What are you going to do today, tomorrow, this year that can help? Being a liberal voter, I already know where I stand. At the very least, the party I vote for, works for the environment. If you are a Republican voter, have you thought about where the Republican party stands on climate change? And specifically, where Trump stands on these issues? Wouldn’t you want to do something if you could to save the planet? Take a look at what he’s done, not done all on a platform of denial. I have some Republican friends, and I think we should be able to have an open conversation about the Earth and what’s happening to our planet. Where will be be in 2030 if we continue to be in denial about climate change right now? We need to wake up.

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