Monday, May 13, 2013

Scorched Earth

A week before we left New Jersey, I was taking a break from all of the business that is relocation and visited the CNN website. An article about a California wildfire caught my eye. Halfway into the article, the following paragraph made my heart skip a beat.
Evacuation orders were in effect in several areas on Saturday, but officials lifted orders for the campus of California State University, Channel Islands in Camarillo and for the Dos Vientos community in Newbury Park, authorities said.
None of the areas listed may mean much to you, and in most of the articles I read, I'll admit they don't mean much to me either. But in this case, Dos Vientos and Newbury Park meant the city and community in which you will spend the next few months. I've experienced hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, tornadoes in Texas, earthquakes near Singapore (and all of those things in New Jersey, too, for that matter) and nor'easters in Massachusetts, but wildfires are new to me. I was not prepared to scratch "scorched earth" so quickly off of my natural disaster bucket list.

We arrived in California exactly one week after our apartment complex here had been evacuated for the fire, and only a few days after firefighters had managed to subdue most of the blaze. It was beautiful in California (greener and, in fact, warmer) in our first days, and driving down the 101 freeway, it was lovely to see the hills, valleys, and canyons dotted with chaparral mixed in with oaks, magnolias, and tall, pointed cypress trees. As we exited the freeway, we were treated to the sight of blooming roses and bouganvilleas. And just outside our temporary housing, looking toward the east, we have a fairly typical view of the surrounding landscape. The sky really is that color.

However, to the west, we also get a very close up view of the same landscape, post-wildfire. I am reminded  distantly of a paragraph in a C.S. Lewis novel where a character is describing the moon. Something about polished rock, and not one blade of grass or one fibre of lichen. The tree right on the edge of the roadway is green on one side, and a crunchy, toasted bright amber on the other. The contrast is still more than I can comprehend, and it is the first time I have not only seen burnt plants, but truly scorched earth - dirt blackened by soot and carbon. Truly, there is nothing left. Hills that were green a few weeks ago, today are black and bare and ravaged.

Californians, of course, are fairly blase about this kind of thing by now. Ignoring the signs that say "Fire Damage - Slow to 30mph," they speed along by the charred fences and singed medians as if everything were whole and undamaged. But for us it is a large-scale reminder of the power of nature, the sovereignty of God, and how truly small we are.

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