The Elemental Enemy

My sacred places are burning.

Sonoma County, heart of my heart, is on fire, and its magnificent wildlands, its rolling oak woodland hills and grasslands are steadily being destroyed. Annadel and Sugarloaf Ridge State Parks, where I have lost myself in a steady wash of serotonin joy at the sheer beauty, the wildness, the richness of creation, are aflame; Annadel is mostly gone now.

It’s hard even to get my mind—much less my visceral understanding—around this fact. Things are moving quickly and every day of the past five has brought new alerts, new evacuation orders. The fire that dislodged me from my home stabbed deep into my home town of Santa Rosa, and came within a block of burning everything I own.

How can the magnificence of the Pony Gate Trail, or the North Burma Trail be lost? How can the bedrock of my spirituality—a love of place—be simply erased so suddenly, without warning?

Pagans often use the four classical elements—air, fire, water and earth—as metaphors for the various states of matter, for their associated correspondences in alchemical or occult systems of belief. Air is knowledge, communication, clarity, intellect; Fire is passion, transformation, will; Water emotion, depth, wisdom; Earth patience, memory, ancestry, groundedness. Many (perhaps even most) Pagans call on these as allies, invoke them as powerful supporters for the outcomes they seek in their rituals.

But what when these “elements” (and let me grant, this is a system I almost never use any longer, as it isn’t based in any scientific reality) become enemies? When Fire goes crazy and Air (in the form of driving winds) becomes its destructive facilitator and instrument? How are we to understand the forces of Nature when they kill what we love?


In fact, the forces of Nature will, given time, take all we love: friends, family, places, possessions. This is an iterative Universe, and the old is torn apart to make the new. It is the Way of Things.

But some things seem so solid, so dependable! They have been with us for all of our lives. I find I have fallen into that most human and dangerous foible: the idea that it can’t happen here.

Oh, my mountains. Oh, my meadows.

It seems we’ve had a lot of shocking news that we thought “couldn’t happen here” lately. And there will be more, as the deranged manchild in the Presidency colludes with his meanspirited and callous fellow party members to attack the disadvantaged and the environment.

So love it while you can, people. I have been telling myself for weeks that I was overdue for a hike in Annadel; now, those places I loved are forever lost. They will become something else, over time, but they will never be my familiar, beloved haunts again.

Yes, we must fight. Of course we must fight the fire.

But love the burning world before it burns.


9 thoughts on “The Elemental Enemy

  1. On my Altar, I have- in addition to Quan Yin, Redtail and Buffalo- a shrouded figure that is meant to represent implacable, indifferent Fate. She is a chilly reminder that there is absolutely no evidence that the Universe gives a shit about my happiness and well being, no matter what I like to tell myself.
    I’m reminded, too, every time I sing that line from “Barge of Heaven”- “Pour it out for me, pour it out for me. Everything you send me I will drink”- that, if I mean it, I have to accept cancer along with butterflies and rainbows; a friend’s death along with the joy of making music.
    So, as you say, Mark. all we can- and must- do, is love and appreciate what we have in this moment, because (as the Grateful Dead used to sing) “There’s nothing we can hold for very long”.
    Thanks for the timely reminder, and be well

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda Davis

    So sad for your loss. Nature given time will regenerate, but no, not the same, so stay safe and take time to grieve.
    My heart has been telling me for some time that my task right now is to be a witness to and honour much that is passing. Blessings /l\

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t imagine the horrors of waiting, watching, and experiencing such destruction. I have never had the honor of living there, but I have visited and it was by far my favorite of ALL the places I’ve been to in the US. I am so sorry you are going through this at such a trying time in our history. I know how much nature is my solace and pray it can heal itself. Maybe as it renews, you too can find a new, enlightening attachment to its wounds and resilience. My thoughts are with you💕🏞️💕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so sorry, and I do know how you feel…it’s water (sometimes with air) here, not fire, and the water doesn’t destroy the natural places so completely…but, yeah. Sometimes we have more warning (especially if it’s a hurricane) but sometimes the water comes up SO fast that all you can do is grab the pets and the photo albums and RUN. When I flooded last year I was scared to death I wouldn’t make it out of town before the highways went under (we’re in Baton Rouge and were trying to get to my ex’s apt in New Orleans), or that I’d get trapped en route. I was “lucky” and only got two feet, so it was mostly furniture and kitchen stuff (and shoes!) that we lost, and when it’s water you can sometimes recover the stuff that was up high if you can get to it before the mold does, and clothes that got soaked can be washed and washed and washed in vinegar if you can get to them in time, but still…argh. And I lived in New Orleans when Katrina happened–that felt very much like the destruction of a sacred place to me, too.

    Re: using the elements–what works for me is to think of earth, air, water, and fire (and Spirit) as the “classical elements” as opposed to the literal, scientific elements. They’re still the foundations of life (and matter/energy in general) even though we know now that they can be broken down into so many other more specific things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you–yes, I imagine the kind of devastating floods you get on the Louisiana coast give a somewhat similar experience. I’ve been trapped at home by floods here, but the water has never actually gotten to my home.

      There is good/bad news about the fires: the landscape here evolved for regular fires, and some plants actually need fire to propigate. But the intensity of this fire in many places was too extreme to perform that function, and instead just destroyed whatever was in its path.

      It’s just sad. Some of those places were just achingly beautiful.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.