I began my summer thinking alot about fire. It had been hard to avoid: I work at an outdoor daycamp in Berkeley, California. Everyday I’d drive the windy roads of Tilden Park, past what should have been spectacular, million-dollar views of the San Francisco skyline. At the start of summer, however, smoke from thousands of wildfires obscured the city completely.
At Muir Woods – a Redwood forest across the Golden Gate – I once heard a ranger give a talk about the importance of fire to the ecosystem of the forest. He pointed out that a bunch of accumulated dry brush on the forest floor is a dangerous side effect of fire supression. He told us about the disease spreading between the dead and rotting trees, slowly poisoning the whole wood. He said, “Without fire, this place will be destroyed.”
As someone who has recently undergone a life-altering surgery, metaphors abound. Destruction can be respected, and renewal is a necessary part of life. The hardening scar tissue on my chest is a badge of regeneration, proof that my body has an intelligence all its own, that life happens in even the most hurt places – in fact, life especially happens there. Healing is a process of demolition and regeneration. This definition is generalizable to any wound – psychic, spiritual, emotional. What is hurt is possible to heal, but first, whatever’s in the way needs to be leveled. There is always a way to regeneration, and I think we often know what it is – whether we like it or not, whether it scares us or not, whether we can verbalize it or not, whether it surprises us or not.
Which leads me to a Friday back at the beginning of summer. All week smoke burned my throat, and I had grown used to driving to work with the windows up. But on Friday, the air had a slightly different quality than the days preceding – a wetter, colder sort of heaviness. As I spun by the still-obliterated view, the “smoke” looked a little different. Sure enough, a few hours into my day, the kids and I were freezing. We all struggled into extra sweatshirts and thermals, our heads covered in hoods pulled tight. I looked up and saw the famous Bay Area fog spinning across the tree tops. I thought about displaced air, about how this fog formed somewhere way off the coast and has been sucked into my landscape. I thought about witnessing this in Tilden Park, this regeneration of air itself: the smoke-filled stuff that had risen up, the foggy cloud that had swept in to take its place. I thought about the way we’re all motivated to heal, each of us, every thing, every single one.