Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

A letter from somewhere near Paradise, 2018.

‘I take what work is on offer’ – John Tarrant

Dear friends –

What a wonderful community you all are. I would not have thought that being held would come through so strongly over the electronic aether. A report this morning from a crazy, wonderful neighbor – Tommy Slattery, let his name be known –  who stayed the night through the burn-over said, ‘some places are gone, some places are standing’.

So I don’t know. The yearning to know – Is it gone? Is it standing? Is there anything in my life that I don’t yearn to put into this dualism? I just want to know – even if the news is bad. But I don’t know. What IF this were the true nature of things? All knowing riding on the great deeps.

 My house, like all my endeavors, has a story to it. A long, shaggy dog story – filled with drama, exuberance, depression, and beauty. I had already begun to tell the story forward – that my son would inherit the house and land, that my daughter and her husband would move to Chico and visit me on the ridge. Maybe that all might happen, but the fire is always on the ridge line. It was some sort of personal fire that caused me to be living on that ridge in the first place.

I just had extensive drainage work done around my house, since the crawl space turned into a lake for months due to the heavy rains we get up here. Yes, it will soon begin raining – we get 40-80 inches a year. But first things first – get the fire finished, then start on the flooding. I may well have a well-drained ash home. This would be the second time a home burned on the foundation.

Fire always reveals something. When I was evacuating I realized I had no idea what to take. Everything seemed to be of nearly equal value. I have hundreds of books, many of which I have hauled around for decades, but gave no thought to trying to save them from the fire. Standing in my closet, looking at the motley collection of clothes, picking and choosing which shirts and pants to take, I began laughing at how absurd it was. I ended up grabbing art from the wall – including the great Boogey Man print by Michael Hofmann. I thought I could begin a new home with art from friends. And art is easy to carry and fits into a Toyota Corolla.

Yesterday, driving around the back roads on the ridge, getting spectacular views of the fire. Because of the winds, the sky was completely clear, no trace of smoke smell, yet a mile away the fire raged, apocalyptic skies loomed above. A grand, beautiful day for sightseeing the end of the world. The great Earth can tip so slightly and easily into a state that appears as conflagration to mammals such as myself.

Bobcat – NPS – Keith Geluso

On that drive I passed both a large coyote and a bobcat right next to the road. In each case I slowed my car to a stop and we regarded each other. We were in the same situation. We are always in the same situation, though I often don’t recognize it. I continue to think there is a refuge from the fire, but the coyote and bobcat have not the slack for such fantasy. To be a witness to the beauty of the wild creatures, and the awful beauty of the fire – good work if you can get it.

Love, Chris

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