I strode curiously down the steep hill, taking care to not slip on the dry grass. Smoke rose from behind the protective oak tree--another oak, who rested maybe 10-15 feet behind the altar, its limbs now severed leaving only a four foot stump, smoldering gray on top, curls of smoke wafting in various directions.
I walked slowly and disbelievingly, toward it, then hesitated--if the stump was still smoldering, the ground around it may still be hot, coals burning. What could be worse than clandestinely entering a fire burn area, getting burned and creating a need for precious resources to be diverted to one whose desire outweighed common sense? Nothing in my mind at that moment. I took care with my steps and inched closer. It was a mindfulness practice, for sure. Would I feel the heat through my sneakers before it burned through?
The branches of the severed tree lay about five feet down the slightly sloping ravine, some still smoldering, some just a mirror image of ash on the ground. Even adjacent to the tree, I was unconvinced that the fire had just whispered around behind the altar space. Bugs on the smoldering tree stump scampered out from underneath the bark where the smoke and heat met the air.
Was I in danger here? Was this dismembered stump or its arms going to flare up and try to consume me and the other unconsumed vegetation around me? The wind was steady and warm in my direction. Hmmm...more immediate needs arose and I slowly backed up against a glowing, smoking limb and relieved myself.
"Take THAT!" I said inwardly laughing to the #RockyFire.
"Put 'em up, put 'em up!" I laughed outwardly, as I gestured like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. As if anything I could do would actually make a difference! But the embers hissed and the smoke flared up in response to being doused, like a snake rising and twisting in anger at an immediate threat.
It was as if the fire reached out a hungry hand around the corner of the tree--hot enough to melt plastic, break glass, and burn a small section of the bark, but somehow was thwarted, or restrained enough, to save the the tree, statue, photo, flags, and some obviously lovingly handmade God's Eyes twisted and stuck in branches of the tree.
Surprisingly, a few beach chairs resting behind the oak were untouched. A photograph of Walter still rested against the tree, but, just inches away, the glass of a photo frame with a picture of Shyla had shattered, the photo deformed and unrecognizable.
Just behind the Buddha, Walter's ashes remained mostly in the same familiar rectangular shape, but the small, gray vessel had melted away around it. A few had fallen off the corner toward the Buddha statue. Crispy remnants of the blue graduation gratitude stole I had wrapped around the vessel survived, some of the signatures from loved ones still recognizable.
It was as if the fire reached out a hungry hand around the corner of the tree--hot enough to melt plastic, break glass, and burn a small section of the bark, but somehow was thwarted, or restrained enough, to save the the impressive tree, statue, photo, flags, and some obviously lovingly handmade God's Eyes, twisted and stuck in branches of the tree. I straightened the God's Eyes out so they could swing freely in the steady wind and noticed the small carpet situated in front of the Buddha statue that I used for prostrations and meditation--it was well worn and crunchy from becoming wet and dry so many times over the years, but mostly untouched by the fire.
I peered around the area trying to remember if I could see the cabin from this spot, as I still couldn't, then settled in for a brief sitting, just to feel the familiar sensation of the breeze brushing against my skin and hear the sounds of the wind moving through the pine trees. The warm wind poured in from the northwest, haze covering the familiar view. I sensed more smoke as time passed, like the fire was stirring up again, switching directions and intensifying. I sat.
"Of course. Of course," I thought. "Of course this sacred spot was protected." Why? No analytical or scientific reasons, but internally, it all made perfect sense--without a doubt. "Of course..."
My doubts about the survival of the cabin strengthened as I rejoined the trail back up the hill towards my old homestead. I was sure I would have been able to see the cabin by now and all I could see were patches of burnt sticks and patches of living trees.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom