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Tales from the Fire on the Mountain
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I write to you today from San Francisco. We have landed softly, gratefully, in a house four blocks from the city address we inhabited before we purchased our home in La Honda. Now that I have slept for more than four fitful hours for a couple of nights, soothed by the fog, the lack of imminent danger, and only the faintest smell of smoke, I see stories emerging from our mountain community — stories that show the mettle of the folk who choose to live in the hills and the resilience of nature.

There’s the dog, a handsome German Shepherd with a beautiful thick black and gold coat, who spooked and ran away as his owners loaded their select belongings into a truck to comply with the evacuation order that was handed down last week. They legitimately thought they’d never see him again, adding heavy hearts to the racing brains and surging adrenaline already evident in flight mode. But he managed to find his own path out of the threatened zone, turning up on Highway 35 in King’s Mountain, where several neighbors banded together to corral him and comfort him. They brought him to a veterinarian in Half Moon Bay, where his microchip was successfully scanned. A call for his human companions’ current whereabouts on the La Honda Google Group yielded several leads. And on Monday, dog and man were reunited.

There’s pizza — wood-fired pies being tossed and baked at Alice’s Restaurant at Four Corners, the intersection of Route 84 and Skyline, which remains open on the fringes of the fire in order to feed ravenous emergency personnel. On Friday, the owners announced that a gift card would be kept at the register so people so inclined could donate funds for first responder meals. In the first 36 hours, they collected $5ooo; the balance now stands at over $22K, given from places as close as Woodside and as far-flung as Minnesota. Firemen, sheriffs, the National Guard, volunteers from Australia, inmate crews from local prisons all have the opportunity to catch a break, grab a slice of hard-won normalcy, and chow down on food made with love in service to the larger cause.

And there’s the idea of impermanence hanging like a curtain of ash in the hot air, an unspoken yet ever-present reality for all of us who make our homes in this region. It’s a fleeting thought most days as we move amongst the ancient redwoods, sequoias sempervirens, that populate our neck of the woods. Those regal trees, with hundred-foot-high canopies, trunk circumferences that can’t be held in a single human’s embrace, and burly, interlacing root systems, convey a sense that this landscape never changes. But the three feet of duff — soft needles and grasses and leaves, beds of moss and lichen and fungus — tell a very different tale. This forest shifts the expression on its face seasonally, daily, minute-by-minute. This ecosystem remains alive, even as flames appear to destroy all life in the area. For destruction is rebirth, and the only constant is change. We have this certainty to hold onto: that the land will be here long after we are all gone.


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