Born of Fire/The Fire Ladder
I sit down write and we are in the kindling of jejune days. Twelve months ago, we sat in quarantine as unprecedented fires terrorized our beloved natural world. This year, we are poised for a repeat, with drought and heat settling in. Tucson just set a record, 115 on June 15th, and in Death Valley at Furnace Creek, the temperature’s apogee was 128 at that same hour.
We’ve come to equate the summer fires on the west coast with human fault, a representation of our collective sin. And to be sure, much of it is a product of our hubris, neglect, illustrating humanity’s inability to understand our place and role in nature.
However, what follows are two chronicles of nature’s resilience and even dependence on destructive forces. There is no intention to negate the actions we need to take individually and collectively. I hope these words might express fire- cleansing in arboreal consciousness.
Part I: Born of Fire
Behold the vast, magnificent, cyclopean Sequoia, whose very life depends on fire. Without the destructive swelter and seductive, radiant dance between arbor and earth, its seedlings cannot be reared.
Read on, you sex gods and goddesses, as the eroticism of the forest unfolds, beckoning you to worship and tongue-tie yourself in flattery of these libidinal, crimson-hearted giants.
When a fire sets to ravage forests, the trees stand more erect and at-attention than usual. As temperatures rise and waves of warmth twerk through, things get hot and wild. Animals depart, grasses and flower singe out of existence in preparation, and the skin of the earth starts to heave and undulate...
...in manner that would surely cause Nin, Miller, and Bataille to blush...
As torridity intensifies, foreign, musty scents rise up, caressing the ventricose bark of the giants. Thundering cracks and pops wail out as the dashing cones of the trees patiently wait, and then swell and reconstitute themselves. The holy repositories of seminality open up, allowing the precious seeds of jing to rain down onto the scorched, carbonized vulva of forest floor.
This is just long and patient foreplay if you can believe it... you see, after fire scalds the forest, the nubile earth orgiastically beckons more Apollonian poetry.
As the receptive land reposes still disrobed, a path for the sun to further bake her skin which eventually ignites the seed’s genetic potential embedded in her folds and soil.
After all this exertion the sweaty heat subsides, and Earth’s juices flow. Winter comes and wraps the land in snowy blankets invoking a deeply silent slumber. After a gently awakening in spring, melting occurs and water carves through these open swaths. This respite invites vital minerals onto lubricated paths, and the seeds can arise.
And from the imagination of pure mystery, precious coniferous spires then stretch, rooting in direct proportion to their reaching to the sky. As they grow, they represent the immaculate marriage between tree and soil and the seedlings take their place divinely interwoven into the verdant, carnal, and dynamic landscape.
May you know yourself as a sensual being, and may the Sequoias dance with fire allow us all to explore the unbounded nature of sexuality.
Part II: The Fire Ladder
Behold the branch-charmed, patient and steady Oak, whose very life depends on fire. Without the destructive swelter of the clearing element, the tree cannot grow the broad and thorn leaf’d crown.
The winding, circuitous trunks of mighty oaks spiral, ruggedly wrapping themselves out and up for Owl, Crow and Hawk alike. The branches shooting off the trunk can lift to the heavens, while others dip, and hover the ground like lowriders. When fires ravage the rolling golden hills of California the Oak holds a secret lesson that can only be learned by years of observation.
...there’s got to be a fire, in order for you to take notice of this secret
I must tell you, there’s a highland valley hidden in the Santa Monica mountains where massive granite monoliths punctuate the landscape. As imposing as these boulders are, the true stars of this place are the Oak trees, who love it here because of the slithering tributaries of creeks throughout spring.
Walk through this valley and you’ll notice every Oak is burned black these days, the rough, nobby bark wasn’t always that way, but now dons inky, midnight charr, which only enhances the vast and deep green of its leaves lingering above. Occasionally some of the blackened bark falls away, revealing the honey brown sapwood of the outmost growth to be exposed for your viewing pleasure.
I’ve lived my whole life driving though these mountains, my first job as a lifeguard was not a mile from the valley of which I speak now. I’ve known these trees since I was old enough to comprehend their stature. Most of them were here before me and will be thriving after I die. I love them and you should too, for their secret is a lesson in letting go of what doesn’t serve you.
And so, from this small sliver of time which is my life, I’ve noticed that Oaks like to grow several limbs down to touch the craggy dirt clod encrusted ground below. Sometimes you can even encounter mistletoe growing on these low-lying branches within arms reach... on a tree that might stand sixty feet skyward.
I have no proof for what I assert here, but it seems to me that these trees do this intentionally, these low lying branches are fire ladders.
...so when you can’t outrun the pain, you might as well invite it
Because, as the fire mightily swells and cracks around you, its also an opportunity to burn away.
...and this is how you feel bad, then feel good.
In unmanicured, wild conditions, the oaks grow branches that get infected, or have disease. They don’t get the same royal treatment as the trees in your yard. Likewise, humans have diseased branches in the form of avarice, resentment, ire and shame.
...No matter who we are, along the way we all pick up some horrible ephemera that follows us around, and we all like a good catharsis sometimes.
So why not grow a fire ladder and allow for some karma to burn away? The oaks preserve their life this way, ridding themselves of parts of themselves that need to die. The fire sweeps through and destroys these branches, and the diseases they might carry, leaving the tree battered but better off.
And from pure courage, they adapt to the devastating scorches. And they know how to invite the right kind of violence... violence in which pain is endured, for purposes of purification...
...violence so that you may see another fall, winter and spring, and grow unencumbered in your home, your psyche, your nature.