My phone rings. It’s Dawn, my oldest calling from Los Angeles.

Dawn is a fourth generation graduate of Colby, but she was born and raised in California. She loves Maine, she and her husband, Rick, keep looking for property here. But California is tattooed on her heart. It’s as much a part of her as the orange poppies in her garden.

Her work with college and university libraries takes her from one end to the other of the state. These are her highways through the orange groves and vineyards.

These are her mountains and fields, and she has every mile memorized. This is where she was born.

Jillana, my youngest, is an actor’s agent who represents gifted children. Jillana was educated in New York with college and law school degrees. She and her husband, Wayne, are eastern educated, but as Californian as tacos and oranges.

This is what Dawn tells us.

“We’re fine and in control. You just can’t tell the difference between dawn and dusk. The smoke hangs in the fog and permeates everything, you can taste it in the air the minute you open the door. They say it’s the worst air pollution in 30 years.”

Dawn adds: “Our local news encourages everyone to stay inside, to turn on our air filters and purifiers. We have our cool air humidifiers on as well. Bluto and Olive (their boxers) are restless, because we won’t walk them. It’s bad for them and it’s bad for us.

Rick brought out his two N95 emergency masks if we need to go outside for any reason. That’s about it. Netflix, books, cooking and wine, and online exercise classes are blessings.”

Jill and her husband live in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley far from the big fires.

They work from home now with windows closed, AC and air purifiers on, taking online yoga to strengthen and center.

“We don’t smell the smoke at the moment, because the worst of the stuff has moved farther away.”

When they see the sun now, it’s the way Vincent Van Gogh saw it — tortured and angry.

They’ve been through fires before, but not like this. This is an inferno that licks the sky and spits death like the flames from fairy tale dragons, scorching, searing and brutally sucking the oxygen from forest creatures, sucking the life from every living creature, snatching birds from the air as they try to flee, chasing frightened horses to the sea and incinerating them before they reach the waters.

It moves like a battalion of demons, freed to stand on giant hind legs, roaring at the dying of the light and painting death in the charred earth.

The late W.S. Broecker, a scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, wrote, “We’re playing with an angry beast.”

And flocks of courageous firefighters face this beast. Pray for these “Davids,” facing a flaming Goliaths and remember who won that meeting.

Californians, rich folks, Hollywood celebrities with pools and stucco mansions in Beverly Hills? That’s a sitcom vision. It’s a lie.

The real California is full of small towns like the one you live in: Oakland, Winslow, Farmington.

These bloodied and soiled survivors aren’t movie stars. They came and built with their bare hands; they came there to breathe and see the stars at night.

Look at their eyes. It’s that 1,000-yard stare that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had, the glassy stare of the survivors of the Holocaust, of the fire bombing of Dresden, the gassing of Syria.

And it’s not just California. As you read this, 12 states across the West are fighting fires.

There’s the old slave song with one line that reads, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, but fire next time.” The fire next time comes in many ways, from the droplets of hate, lies and anger that spill from the mouth of fat, well insured, safe and protected politicians; a trembling, cowering royal guard who protect their sweaty, tottering emperor.

Our niece Ann Joly, born here in Smithfield, writes us from Cotati, California.

“Smokey. Ash on everything. Sigh. Windows open, windows closed. Don’t want to be outside for long, feel bad for the horses. But no, I’m NOT bringing them inside. Last week we never even saw the sun from the smoke, not even an orange ball, and I think I forgot what stars look like. Wednesday was awful. Everything was a sickly, ghastly orange color. It really felt like that was it, there would be no tomorrow. I had to close my curtains, so I couldn’t see outside. Better today, cooler, but visibility is shot. And it’s only September.”

It’s only September.

Sing along today, with the shackled victims of white slave owners, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, but fire next time.”

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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