I fell in love with the hills of Northern California the first time I saw them, when I was 23 years old and headed into a life-changing summer working on an organic farm. In the years since then, whether I’ve lived here or during the times when I lived elsewhere but returned to visit, I’ve continued to marvel at them.
In the summer, and in the early fall, before the season of rain begins, the hills are golden, like something spun on a dream of Steinbeck’s words. Standing alone among the dry grass, it sounds like whispers and waterfalls, with neither actually present; away from the road, it’s possible to understand the depth of this world, which needs no movement from human beings to continue along its natural path.
I’m often astounded at these hills, startled by their presence, even when I see them frequently. They’re strikingly beautiful, spotted with the heavy trunks and dark green leaves of oak trees, all of it so often sitting against the bluest of skies. The colors come alive, dance with promises of adventure: a temptress of possibility.
In the last week, though, these hills have become kindling, fiery sparks setting them alight. I’ve seen the pictures, have felt the ash snowing upon my skin, have breathed in the fire’s smoke; but it wasn’t until I headed inland, and south, that I had my first glimpse of how my beloved hills have been hurt. Where they should be golden, they are black; where there should be promise, there is a future memory of the apocalypse.
The hills, of course, are just part of the story. Now, as I write, there are evacuees sheltering in our town; emergency responders are still fighting the fires. Yet because the winds have shifted, today, the sky above me is blue.
It’s hard to know that people have lost everything; some have lost their lives.
Through it all, the earth continues moving; the hills will be golden again. The pain now, though, is evident; the change in the hills speak to the newly formed wounds – not even yet scarred over – that members of this community now carry.
Though the road towards recovery is long, it exists. For those who do not need to be directly on it, it seems that helping others is a clear choice.
The people walking on that road need so much, but from what I understand, it is money that helps most right now. So let us give that, along with our love, in abundance, in memory, in hope: for these golden-ashen hills, for the folks who live among them, and for the rebuilding to come.