Sonoma Strong

Burn Mama

The story is always in the details. You can drive by the neighborhoods that burned in the October fires, as I did with my sons who have been visiting from back east. I wanted them to get a feel for this epic event that changed so many lives. But when you sit down to stay a while and sketch the scene, pieces of the story start to creep into your heart and get stuck there.

ForSaleCoffeyPark

This property, like so many others, had passed inspections and been partially cleared. The insurance company was involved. The holiday spirit had been noted in stray decorations. The straw batting was arranged to keep the soil and pollutants from flowing into the street when it rains. And the lot is for sale. Like many property owners now, these folks will be moving on, and new owners will build, and in a few years this night of fires will be history, though never forgotten.

Mr.Ashes

I confess that I had a few moments of despair on that street and wondered why I was still sketching the fire story. So many lives upended.

But then I saw this marvelous burnt-out tree and did a detailed pen drawing of it. When I got home, this creature looked out at me. We’ll call her Burn Mama. She got her hair singed and her lungs full of smoke, but she’s still standing strong in that what’s your problem honey things are going to be OK way.

So when my heart fills with despair, about the fire losses or the sad state of affairs in our country and injustices in the world; when I take stock of things on the turn of the calendar year, I’ll stand with her. She can handle it and so will I/we. Sonoma Strong!

Advertisements

The Botany of Fire

As the fires now rage in southern California those of us in the north watch with compassion and relive the terror of those days in October when we watched our city burn. In the interim we’ve had good bit of rain to green things up here and to begin the clearing of properties. Yesterday I turned my attention to some of the strange and, dare I say, wonderful vegetation that survived the burn on a property where the dwelling sadly burned to the ground.

AngelaRd2pen and w/c with white gouache in 9 X 12″ toned Stillman and Birn sketchbook

A palm tree, blackened and charred but possibly not all the way through. These plants hold secrets within their cells that we could learn from.

AngelaRdbark

Trees don’t bleed like humans, except metaphorically.  These palms are relatives of the grasses with fibrous material to the core. I’m rooting for them to shed their outer layers and come back with fronds greener than ever. The hillside above and below here was already vibrant with luxurious new growth fertilized by the ash.

AngelaRd1

But for now these ghostly figures tell the story of the raging fires. Quan Yin silently witnessed it all and now watches over the restoration. She stands serene and unwitting of the worry that this artist has placed on her brow in the art here. This is after all my telling of the story, with hopefully enough of the recognizable to touch some place in you.

 

Coffee Park Apocalypse

We finally made it out to Coffee Park in Santa Rosa to see the scene where 1000 suburban homes burned to the ground in one night when residents had little or no warning beyond neighbors pounding on doors to alert each other to flee.

Our mission, if we could articulate it, was to take in the scene with open eyes and hearts and to report on it through our on-location sketches.

carmelt

pen and w/c/gouache in Stillman + Birn grey toned Nova series sketchbook, 9 X 12″

The scene was devastation of the apocalyptic sort as far as the eye could see. It defies belief, not to mention description. The expected blackened trees and burnt wooden siding, yes, but melted glass and mangled cars?

I chose this car with its guts hanging out like a soldier wounded in battle and started to draw, realizing that I could not begin to identify the make or model or to imagine what all the wires must have been connected to. On the one hand it was a powerful piece of abstract art, stunning in its bright orange color (courtesy of the oxidizing effects of fire). On the other, it was a lure to coax the mind down a dark hole of death and destruction. One imagines an alien force with a ray gun.

The intensity of the fire as it hit Coffee Park made it unique in history. Fueled by winds that clocked in at 90 mph, the convection forces were powerful enough to create tornado-like vortices and even flip over cars. From a resident who had lost her home that night in the area where we were standing we learned that temperatures of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit had occurred that night, easily melting the glass of a windshield down onto a car’s dashboard.

carmeltpic

Meanwhile I was not prepared for the level of activity going on in Coffee Park yesterday, about five weeks after the fire struck. Bulldozers and backhoes and cranes were busy everywhere, clearing the lots to ready them for reconstruction. In fact this car was sitting on a piece of plastic on a lot completely cleared of detritus. I sat while the bulldozers roared about me, and the inspectors, encased in white with their bug-like masks and cameras and ribboned markers, surveyed the property next door.

Every little nail and bolt of this former-car called out to be drawn. I might still be there if my knees had held out. Did I think that the drawing would somehow help me to make sense of it all, if only I could get it right?