An Ominous Autumn Beginning

These last few days have been surreal. We’ve been under a heat advisory since Thursday, the first day of autumn here in San Jose.  Temperatures climbed into the high 90’s F (34C) and have remained high for five days. It’s been months since we’ve had any significant rain, leaving our state brown and dry as we face year five of the California drought.

Wildfires are always a concern this time of year, but the elevated temps and the drought-produced fuel created a tipping point.  As I drove to my son’s school Monday afternoon I saw this:

loma-fire-by-day

Loma Fire by day as view from my son’s high school

My heart sank. These are the beloved Santa Cruz mountains, part of what surrounds San Jose, creating our iconic Silicon Valley.

When I got home, I checked in with friends that live “over the hill” and all were safe. Cal Fire crews descended on the steep terrain from around the state and we are obsessively checking for updates.

Two hours after the start of this fire, we sat down to watch the presidential debates. An estimated 800,000 viewers tuned in for the first of four televised presidential candidate debates.  Between the fire, the heat and the bombastic Republican nominee spewing nonsensical pablum on the stage, I needed a break.

We turned off the TV and went for a walk around the block. Still out of sorts, we decided to go for a rare evening drive.

One of the most frightening aspects of wildfires is their unpredictability. They rage out of control, change directions without notice and leave damage in their wake. It’s a metaphor for the US presidential election, still an agonizing 40 days away. I’m desperate for it to be over, fearful of the possible outcome, and more than ready to see that bombastic blowhard lose.

loma-fire-at-night

Loma Fire at night, Loma Prieta, California

This morning I received the following email alert:

[the fire]  is now burning upwards of 1,500 acres. Three shelters have been opened for evacuated residents; Soquel HS in Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church, and The Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos are all receiving evacuees. San Jose Fire Department still has multiple units on scene including our SJFD PIO and Chief Officers. We are still on high alert for possible evacuations here on the San Jose side. As you know high temperatures and low fuel moisture along with difficult terrain make this fire particularly dangerous.

This is a good day to remind myself to practice self-care. I’m engaging my Tantra breathing, drinking lots of cool, fresh water and sticking to my meal plan.

How do you manage your stress, when things are out of your control?

Loma Fire Day One

Another Busy Wildfire Season

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42 thoughts on “An Ominous Autumn Beginning

  1. I can enter into your feelings; it’s like waiting to see if the Category 5 tropical cyclone 150km offshore is going to hit, or if it will turn and give someone else the headache, sparing us for another day. We were lucky this year – it turned. But we were ready to evacuate.

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    • Oh Kate, how stressful. We were on the east coast one year when Hurricane Floyd hit. We were far enough inland that we didn’t get the brunt, but I’ve NEVER seen such wind and such rain before or since.

      I’m glad you have an evacuation plan in place. Here we are sure to maintain an earthquake kit…which reminds that I probably need to update mine.

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      • They’re good about reminding you to prepare here. As soon as cyclone season starts (January), there are ads on TV, you can collect literature and checklists from the local council offices, etc. I’m used to it now, but it’s a perennial danger. So far, so good… I hope your fires burn themselves out in low population areas, and that the heavens open just long enough to give everything a soaking.

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  2. I’m trying to send our autumn cool your way. It makes it even more frustrating if the fires are set, not by nature. My TV has been off for the most part. I just couldn’t watch. We are a laughing stock. Those firefighters in Calif are amazing men. My last husband worked for the fire department as mechanic supervisor. I have seen that picture first hand. Been evacuated and never want to go there again either. Arizona fire that was set by someone not too bright. My heart aches when I see it. Every year my son lived in Santa Clarita, there was a fire moving toward them. This year too but the guys did their job well. It’s something we all take very seriously. I built a berm at the top of my hill with clay to make a fire break, just in case. Some are dealing with floods, others drought on the same continent. ??? Ogee has it right, breathe.

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    • Oh Marlene, you have lived this tale. How terrifying for you. Our weather is finally cooling down with even a chance of “moisture” this weekend. I can’t exactly call it rain, because if it does materialize, they’re predicting 1/4 of an inch. BUT it will help. The blaze has grown to 4,000 acres, with 2000 amazing firefighters on the line. Isn’t that something?

      Is Santa Clarita susceptible to the Santa Ana winds? Those are bad every year. I read recently that they are trying to be much more proactive, but as usual, resources are stretched.

      I hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead of you. I hope too that you are feeling well.

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      • Yes, Santa Clarita and Burbank all get Santa Ana’s. I’ve never been a fan. We had a firefighter friend get caught in a fire and it took him years to recover but he never worked again. Talks to schools and groups about fires now. We are hoping for a bit of rain here too but I’d gladly send it south to help out if I could. Relaxing??? I just dug 3 holes and planted a blueberry bush and readied the other two to move rose bushes to when I can finally get all that clay out of there. It’s awful and nothing can grow. Lots of amendments and some gypsum to break down the clay. I’ve hoed and weeded and everything hurts. 🙂 Our temps are dropping like a rock so autumn is definitely here. Maybe it will help you too.

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  3. Do hope the fire is under control by now. Very stressful (and dangerous) for everyone. Yesterday, the atmosphere was gloomy both inside and outside: outside because it’s spring, and inside because I, too, was watching the debate between the 2 Presidential candidates. I haven’t met the word pablum before but that sums up Trump’s words perfectly. “Word Salad” seems appropriate too.

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    • I’m sorry to hear you’re having a gloomy spring. I hope nature remedies that soon. And if you were watching the debate, then I understand perfectly your feelings. It’s depressing to watch this nightmare unfold.

      The fire has spread to 4,000 acres, unfortunately, and the winds have shifted. Right now, we’re hanging our hats on some light moisture that is due to arrive over the weekend. Fingers crossed that it makes it this far down into the valley. That will help the firefighters a lot.

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  4. Your California fires seem to be an annual event – though I’m sure that makes it no easier to live with! We can allow ourselves to feel a lot of fear with these events, it is best not to give in to that but to remain grateful for safety and those who dare go into the danger to fight it. And breathe! Much love xo

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  5. I can’t imagine having to deal with fires like that year after year. What a great metaphor for the Republican nominee – I cannot understand how anyone can think of him as presidential. On the other hand, his opponent had a plan for everything, kept her cool, and looked very presidential. This election cannot be over soon enough! Karen

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    • Karen, agreed. She did well. He was a hot mess by the end, but now is bragging that he won. Add that to the mile long list of reasons he simply can’t get elected.

      The fires have always been a mainstay, but apparently this summer they’ve more than doubled. We have twenty uncontrolled wildfires at this time, and resources are stretched pretty thin. I’m grateful for the men and women that show up and battle these blazes. What incredibly brave souls.

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  6. I wish I could send our forecasted wet weather your way. The only way I’ve been able to deal with stress is by not putting myself in situations that would cause it in the first place, so I don’t tune into the news. When things do happen that I can’t avoid, I volunteer and get involved so I can make a small difference. It may not change the outcome, but at least I can take back a little bit of control, feel better about it and not so helpless.

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  7. What a summer you’ve had, Alys. I remember when you were smelling the smoke earlier in the year. And as for the election, your metaphor is apt. I wish it were over as well, with the right outcome!!! I can’t imagine anyone watching the debate remaining undecided. I’ve just been avoiding the news and check in to realclearpolitics and fivethirtyeight.com periodically. Like you, I just remind myself to breathe. And sometimes I actually am holding my breath!!!!!

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  8. You certainly have reason to feel stressed with such awful fires raging within sight of your home. As for the elections – we have heard more than enough about them here, so I can imagine you have suffered a lot more and are impatient to have it all behind you! If I am stressed I try switching off by doing something engrossing like weeding the garden or reading a thick novel, or starting a really complex crochet project… 😉 Hope that fire gets put out soon Alys. Take care.

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    • Cathy, those are all great ideas. I love retreating to the garden to pull weeds, but with the excessive heat and bad air, one of my go to projects has been stalled. That’s why my husband found me on the ladder after dark earlier this week pruning a shrub. ;_0

      I need to get my hands on a great book!

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  9. Jeez–those fire photos are terrifying! I’ve never lived anywhere where we’ve faced that particular threat–I wish I could send you buckets of cool, drenching rain. I didn’t watch the debates on TV–didn’t want to get myself all twitchy–but I’ve read all about how it went and am glad that it sounds like there was one clear winner! Like you, I can’t wait for this all to be over . . .

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    • Kerry, instead of oil pipelines, I propose rain water transfer pipes. Send that floodwater where is it needed most, and save lives and property in the meantime. This fire is burning close to a major communications tower, creating all sorts of logistical problems as well. There are over 2,000 fire fighters on the scene, and it’s still burning five days later.

      Halloween is my favorite month of the year, so I’m going to try to focus on that and let the election fade as much as possible.

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    • Charlie, I’m so sorry to hear of your violent youth. What a difficult thing to endure. Congratulations for bucking the trend and coming out of it healthy and viable. How terribly sad to realize so few of your friends made it. I’m humbled by your honesty and forthright nature. I can well understand your fear of Trump; I feel it too. He’s a dangerous man. We must stop him with our votes, then work to educate the masses that support him, thinking that his brand of hate is somehow ok.

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  10. I feel for you, forest fires are a bane of our life too, in Greece. Twice our house nearly burned down, and was saved by heroic helicopter pilots dumping water on it. They fly in very high winds, into the smoke… It all scares me to death, and makes me very sad to see the destruction of nature…

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    • I’m sorry to hear that Greece is equally vulnerable to these fires. And how frightening to have flames threaten your home. I can’t imagine the fear you experienced during those times. They talk a lot here about “defensible space” which are guidelines for keeping your home safe: removing dead trees and shrubs, no flammable debris near any structures, and safe fire practices to name a few. They sad that wildfires are necessary to burn the undergrowth and to generate new life, but now that homes are built right up to the edges of the forests, and sometimes in them, the situation has changed dramatically.

      I worry about the animals the most. It’s so sad.

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      • Yes, I think a lot of badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, mice, turtles etc get burnt each time. And, talking of defensible space, this is almost impossible with pine trees. A pine tree on fire can send pine cones flying more than 500 m. And when the weather has been dry for months and there’s not enough water to keep things green except for a small patch of lawn around the house, there’s not much to stop the fire. I remember running down the hill and seeing small fires start on each side of the path as I ran, just In the grass. Terrifying

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  11. “Apocalyptic” was what came to mind when I saw your photos. There’s something so primal and terrifying about wildfires, isn’t there? I think they drive home the reminder that we are still tiny, helpless creatures in some ways — a reality most of us aren’t comfortable with. I’m glad to read that you’re focusing on self-care, though, because that really is your “prime directive.” And as it turns out, that’s also the best tip I can offer for times of extreme stress: Focus on the things you can control. I hope you’ll be back soon with the great news that the fires have been knocked down. My very best to you …

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    • Heather, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. You know, I think you hit upon exactly what’s distressing: the primal nature of a wildfire does make you feel vulnerable and small. I’ve always been afraid of fire. I suppose that is a healthy fear on some level. Fires are a powerful thing.

      Thanks for your affirmations. I hope you are well.

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  12. What an appalling situation, Alys. I really feel your anguish.

    I so so hope the Republican candidate fails in his attempt to be President. I could only be very bad for the people of your country as well as the rest of the world.

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      • I can only think that sufficient people have lost any faith in the political system and (as people suggest about the Brexit vote, when just over 50% of British citizens voted to leave the EU) are simply protesting in the only way they feel they have any power.

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  13. “nonsensical pablum” – perfect!
    I’m visiting on your birthday, Alys. Which somehow did NOT show up on my calendar, darnit!
    Ah well, as with Pauline, I’ll be making sure that your birthday lasts more than a day. 🙂
    Back to your post: heat, fire, Trump … somehow it all goes together.
    Wishing you cool water, calming thoughts, freedom from nonsensical pablum.
    Love you much, my birthday friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Just so heartbreaking, Alys! We always feel so sorry for all of the people affected by the wildfires out west. Have the Santa Cruz fires been contained at all yet? The brave firefighters have been on the job for so long already. How can they endure this terrible wildfire season? I have had to take more news ‘breaks’ than usual during this election season. It has rocked me to my core to think what could happen to our country and in the world. I’ve been spending extra time in nature to try to ease my worries. Sending you gentle rains, peaceful moments, and big hugs, dear Alys! ♡

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    • Dawn, the fires burned for over two weeks, but they’ve contained the spread to a wilderness area and homes are no longer threatened.

      Time out of the news cycle is a good thing. This weekend alone knocked us all on our feet. One month to go.

      Thank you for your always positive and loving energy.

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