Tubbs Fire

Fire Restoration

The northern California fires of last October left us all feeling vulnerable. The devestation and loss of peoples’ lives, homes, livelihoods, and more is not even close to being put in the past. I’ve been going back out to some of the burned neighborhoods I sketched a few weeks or months ago to observe the physical changes.

fountaingroveburn2

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ hand.book trav.e.logue sketchbook

After the fire you could always find the “steps to nowhere”, only then they were covered with the considerable debris of people’s homes that had burned down. Now almost 90% of the lots have been cleared and scraped and are theoretically ready for rebuilding, though little construction has yet to get started. Here you see a cleared lot, no longer blackened. All around one sees the irrepressible greening of nature. So many of the burned trees are now blossoming or budding out!

fountaingroveburn1 Here’s another lot which perches on the edge of the canyon with a jaw-dropping view. The cement foundation of the upper story stands clear and ready while a giant tractor claw rests in the green grass rusting. One wonders if the holdup is the post-fire discovery of toxins in the water system that must be remedied before construction gets underway? The lay of the land looked eerily familiar to me.

fountaingrove1

It was the same lot I had sketched (on gray paper) last December when part of the house was still standing! All the homes seen across the way had also disappeared!

Then last week I met Peter Phibbs, the sculptor who works at the Paradise Ridge winery that burned in the fire. I had the opportunity to see some of his creations made from burned wood and grapevines. My favorite was his “Wave”, an on site installation which took my breath away!

Paradise1

It was late in the day with not much time to hear Peter’s fire story or do more than one sketch. On October 8 he was busy at work building a stage on the property when the fire came roaring toward him and he just escaped in time, leaving all his tools and car to the flames. Since then he’s “rescued” a treasured oak tree by turning it into a sculpture that will last for ages. And he was just in the process of loading up and delivering a large burnt wood sculpture to a family who lost their home in Coffey Park (made of wood reclaimed from their property!).

Peter

While he was talking I snapped a picture and sketched this later. Here you see one of the phoenixes of the Tubbs Fire!

The much loved Paradise Ridge wines survived and the winery will be rebuilt. Visit their website to read their touching story. I hope to go back soon to capture more of this scene. The land is still laced with dramatic sculptures and llamas and more! And the vines are thriving.

paradiseridgevines

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.

 

Doorways to openess

Fountaingrove is where neighborhoods of gorgeous homes sit in the hills above the city of Santa Rosa. They are the homes to many of our doctors and other professionals. It used to be that if you drove around you’d notice the homes and landscaping. The properties cleared out now by the Tubbs fire of two months ago, your eye is now drawn first with dismay to rubble from the fire and then to the lovely brick and masonry entranceways that lead the eye unobstructed to open views of the valley below.

fountaingrove1

Or in this case to a house across the ravine that did not burn.

fountaingrove2

On this cul de sac the workmen were busy doing the work of clearing debris. No shovels and wheelbarrows here! I have captured only a couple of the machines at work. “The Claw” does most of the heavy lifting. And there’s a fellow who sprays a stream of water to keep any particles from going airborne. The woman in the bright vest was seated for a while watching the action. I figured she was there to direct traffic or something. But suddenly she jumps up and starts barking loudly enough for two back hoe operators to cease their machines’ noisy rumbling and listen to her instructions.

She came over to check out my drawing and introduced herself as a QC operator. That stands for quality control, if you hadn’t guessed. So the construction guys have to pay attention to her. She explained that there are different companies working contracted to work together to get the job done quickly and safely. These were homes built after 1980 so they didn’t have to worry about asbestos control and the job was going more quickly. It was getting dark when I left and they worked on. I liked the idea of a pretty lady boss, so I put her in the sketch twice!

Beauty among the ashes

Exploring yet another burned out neighborhood in the path of the October 8 Tubbs fire I drove out Mark West Springs road. While walking down a street of flattened homes this antique car rose out of the ashes and stared at me like a giant beetle. The squashed garbage cans seemed to be having a dialogue with it, so I sat down to listen to what they had to say about the event.

antiquecar

pen, watercolor and gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn toned Nova series sketchbook

The constant drone and thunking of the bulldozer down the street and conversation of workers kept me company while I followed the lines with my eyes, unencumbered by knowledge of familiar shapes I’d drawn before. Squashed circles and wavy/sharp edges and broken pieces set the brain free to engage in a pure effort of drawing as it should be, without distractions of the mind.

A couple of workman stopped by to ask me if I had lost my house here. People are always ready to offer condolences. A supervisor with a company on contract with FEMA or OSHA or, I wasn’t quite clear, engaged me in conversation. He had come from Miami, where he lives.

“I was there in the middle of the hurricane destruction,” he said, “and it looked a lot like this does” waving his hand over the flattened neighborhood they were clearing.

markwest

Continuing up Mark West Springs way and out Reibli road and other country lanes, I traced more of the fire destruction and found a peaceful spot by the side of the road. It was a typical scene with layered colors of alternating lush vibrancy and dark, burned areas with debris, like the trees above, still green at the tops with browned scorched leaves and black charred trunk. The human habitation was leveled and peppered with white and black ashes, and the grasses were surging back encouraged by recent rains. Even here the cranes and bulldozers droned on in their clearing jobs around every corner in the road.

Visiting the Burn

The roads through neighborhoods burned in last month’s devastating fires are finally open again. Over 5100 homes burned and an additional 1000 buildings. This past week I was drawn to take a better look, by a complex mixture of compassion, curiosity and my own need to heal in the way that comes easiest for me, through art making.

burn

pen, watercolor, gouache in 9 X 12″ Stillman + Birn Nova Series Grey toned sketchbook

In the Mark West Springs area: rubber melted off tires, steel girders collapsed/bent,  while on the same property trees retaining full foliage.  Across the street roses blooming, and farther down, beautiful homes untouched by the flames. But that night of October 8 the fire didn’t stop there. It twirled like a Dervish and raced on for miles. In the bright light of a sunlit day, there was no sense to make of its crazy drunken path.

Yet here I sat on a lovely fall day, listening to the Mariachi music and mellow voices of the workers nearby. Pink ribbons flapped in the breeze on mailboxes indicating that a hazardous waste inspection had been done.

burn2

Metal, cement, bricks, rocks, some glass and ceramic tiles and statuary remain, though not always in the original place. In these neighborhoods there are so many stairs to nowhere now. And this goddess arising from the shell, having also risen from the fire, seemed full of despair in one moment. . .and full of hope in the next. The metal sculpture on the right (once a heater perhaps?) tilted empathically at the same angle as the goddess. So much beauty in all this loss, shining paradoxically through the sadness.

roundbarn The Round Barn had stood on the hillside in Santa Rosa for 119 years before it burned in the Tubbs fire. I wanted to see it, and pay homage with a sketch, but although we knew where it was supposed to be, we couldn’t find it. On the blackened hillside above Mendocino Avenue leaned a small, leafless tree. I assumed at first that because the Barn was such a beloved landmark, the usual fire debris had already been trucked out.

But as we caught sight of the stone pilings, arranged in a circular fashion below, we realized we had reached the spot. Piles of rusty nails and bolts littered the ashy ground and green shoots of grass, bright and vibrant were already beginning to lend a healthy glow to the hillside.  Such was the contrast to the mountain of gray debris left behind by the fire that consumed the K-Mart and others businesses.

A walk on the burnt hillside restored my vision of nature as flexible, yielding to disaster, bending and springing back so ardently on this hillside meadow where an old wooden barn burned to the ground. Who knows what flowers will decorate the hillside this winter and spring?

It was time to choose which of the fire art I would render in my sketch. A few sheets of metal curled up in sculptural beauty, kissed with colors of flame and oxidation? The big oak which split in two in the fire, making a kaleidoscope of sky holes in the trunk and a stretch of trunk curling down to meet the ground and opening up future homes for many creatures? I chose the bench to sketch, for the story it told of the fire’s unique artistry.

Fire Flow

firepourDemo for Monday Muse Group: acrylic, Pouring Medium, collage (paper, netting, “medallion skins”)

Such beauty, red, color of sunset, of ripe apples, of rosy cheeks and

Color of flames blowing this way, color of monster chewing up homes, melting down metals and tossing cars like those evil midwestern twisters.

And that Hollywood Oscars-night glow on my horizon. Dumbfounding.

A couple of days after the Tubbs fire (since anointed as the most destructive fire in California’s history) began and while it was still raging on, I tried painting the horizon in flames in the night sky as I viewed it from our living room window on that night of October 8. It didn’t work. There was no way to paint it “on purpose” because this fire was the essence of random. Add to that rampant, unconstrained and unpredictable.

Those same adjectives could be used for acrylic pouring medium which is formulated to make acrylic paints flow and level out and keep moving as you tip and turn the paper, and to keep moving until they dry, which takes a while. Pouring Medium is the name for the Liquitex brand, but Golden has their own version called GAC 800. Mix a few drops of fluid acrylic paint with the medium and you’re ready to pour, either onto your painting surface (paper here) or onto plastic in order to make “skins”, or as I like to call the more circular pools, “medallions”. Here are some of the other medallions I made.

medallionsWhen they’re dry, after a day or so, you peel them up and use them as collage pieces. The one on the lower left was made by marbling with a stick and tipping the surface. The others were made on a level surface with pouring and dropping the paint, all mixed with pouring medium.

medallions2

These involved more tipping of the surface to cause more random occurrences as in the painting at the top. You never know what’s going to happen. . . like that fire.

I’ll be teaching “medallions” and other mixed media techniques in the upcoming workshop. Contact me if you’re interested!

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 9.07.33 PM

 

A Lesson in Fire Fighting

On Tuesday my sketch buddies and I headed out to Alliance Redwoods Conference Center  in Camp Meeker, CA. where the fire fighting strike teams from all over the state were being housed between shifts of firefighting. We wanted to try to tell another part of the story of the fire storms that have so far burned over 100,000acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, the deadliest of which has claimed at least 22 lives, burned thousands of homes to the ground, displaced many thousands more in evacuations, and destroyed many of our beautiful parks, vineyards and more.

As we drove out country roads to the camp, there were frequent reminders of the gratitude that this community has for these fire fighters who are the undisputed heros of the day. Signs were posted on many properties with bright Thank You Firefighters messages. We found ourselves in a caravan of fire trucks all the way out.

calfiretrucks

When we arrived we signed in and were given Visitor badges. Wanting to stay out of the way, yet have a good vantage point for sketching, we went to the end of the parking lot filled with trucks, and started sketching.

type3truck

Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in Canson Mixed Media 9 X 12″ sketchbook

As we were sketching there was a trickle of firefighters walking by. We soon discovered that we were almost as interesting to them as they were to us. For many of them it was rest time and they were at ease enough to chat and seemed happy to answer questions about when and where they’d come from, which fires they’d been on, etc. Many of them were from southern California and had been here all week working 24 hour shifts.

calfirefighters2

Other looked quite weary and seemed more anxious to get settled.

calfireguys

Some were hanging out in groups, enjoying the fresh air of the redwoods, a welcome break from the toxic smoky air they’d been breathing.

firesuitLucky for us a couple of battalion chiefs, the ones who lead the strike teams of 5 trucks that go out together, decided to have some fun with us artists and had us try on the fire  jacket they wear with its thick layer of insulation and fire retardant shell. Where’s the air conditioner? I asked, knowing that sometimes they’re fighting fires in 120 degree heat. The answer “that’s when you take off the jacket and your sweat cools you“.

tonyfromquincy

Tony came over to us a while after I sketched him lounging in his truck. He was happy to tell his story, which turned into many stories! A 75 year old volunteer firefighter from Quincy, CA he was on his second consecutive fire in other parts of California and wondering if he might be getting too old for this!! especially having gone 60 hours without sleep when they first came. Pushing the body beyond the limits that most of us could tolerate seemed to be standard for these guys.

We took every opportunity we could to voice our gratitude for their service and they always just turned it around to say how grateful they were to all the people of our community who were so full of spirit and good will. Some said they had never seen anything like it in other places.

Later I remembered that night eleven days ago when the Tubbs Fire came roaring over the hills, lighting up the horizon with flames, fueled by 50-70 mph hot winds blowing in our direction, and I knew that our fate was in the hands of Nature and the firefighters who would jump in their trucks and head this way from as far away as Alaska. Yup! This is one grateful community.