The Fire That Nearly Took Us

…the flames, the no I will NOT go, NO of wild broom and oats and wheat, the me the mother who says NO I will stay, this land is my womb, my children, this acreage of my mother’s and her mother’s, over a thousand maternal acres handed down and down, yes….but MOM get in the car, get the cat, get the dog, get the photographs, NO…I will stand right here with my cracked heels wrinkled and hurting as the deep dry earth, October earth, deep creases of walnut shells, see they have stained my palm, see, I will NOT… no, I say, the last leaf, see how it still hangs from the miracle oak…why leave ME, it says, and the bees with their see-sawing grief on the wild rose, … now this is, NO this is I will not go… yet you MUST, hear the winds, MOM, what winds, I have heard them like the coyotes in the middle of the night when everyone’s sleeping, when cattle low and low and their calves… no mother GO, but the owls, my owls, yes I know them too, the owls at dawn, they low low like the coyotes, oh yes, they all have their own oboes, I listen I LISTEN I have given my milk in the bluest hour, a woman walking in the pale pale darkness, rubbing beads of moisture from her bedside window, see ME moving into the fiery woods with the sash of my kimono opening, closing, catching the moon in my hand, holding in the light, under the fish net of stars as a moth flies across an old mare’s flanks so soft even I won’t go, I have been awake when there is no one, when the bedside clock cast its minutes out, the flames I see them and think of the orange-robed monk kneeling down in a billowed flame decades ago backed up to a wooden brothel in a place called Saigon, oh Mai Lai half asleep, on its bruised hands and knees, the things that keep me awake through the early hours, white hours, my house wrapped in its black armband, and the flames I can hear like mortar fire waking up the valley, my valley, while a circle of tomes lies like an open eye around my bed, and the rampant touch, the inflamed kiss, oh hot autumn night, of gold leaf and sky, oh fires you say the fires are here like Phantom jets that roll in the sun, making the sound of grief like the churning of rivers in winter, oh how we cling to each other, we who grew flowers to slide into rifle barrels, who danced in People’s Park with incense tapirs, when hope was a temple bell, when the folk songs began that rose from our lips… no, NO, I say to you as if it were my marriage vow… in sickness and death, I will not go…

No one was prepared for the fires that swept Northern California in October 2017. I did not want to leave the ranch that I have always known, that I grew up on, that I raised my hearty sons on. My grown boys tore through the valley from their scattered homes and begged me to go! But I was frozen. It was as if I believed the gods would not burn this ranch, no way. They have protected it for 100 years. The only ranch around these parts to stay safe. I stood firm in that belief, perhaps a bit crazy, but I have always been a bit crazy. I am a hill wife. A Cassandra. The Northern California fires of 2017 were and are an indication of what is to come: fires and more fires.

About the Author

Leonore Wilson is a former English and creative writing professor who has taught at various college and universities in the Bay Area. She has won a cluster of fellowships and awards for her work. Her poetry books are Tremendum Augustum and Western Solstice. Currently she teaches memoir and helps maintain her large 100-year-old cattle ranch with her husband and ninety-year-old-mother.

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