Fire and Water
Fire, 20 miles south, 30% contained. Reassurance from fire department, park service, and others: all hands on deck. Fires will be contained soon. Continue programming as usual.
I’ve walked 20 miles in a day before. A fire could sprint, hop, fly that distance. The situation could turn quickly… Paradise Fire quickly demolished homes, cars, humans, and a town. The Thomas Fire left only a few scraggly Oaks and naked Eucalyptus across the street from our home and my clinic. I watched my mountains burn growing up– and was there too for the eventual recovery, and eventual re-burn.
We decide to stay the night, 11 tent flaps zipped up, 2 people sleeping in a car, run-bags packed and ready. Firefighters might join our camp overnight to launch an emergency response. We could be evacuated at any time– or we could sleep through the night, the fire controlled, and the sky blue again, ready for another day of adventure.
We wake to ash drizzling like soft white snow, a choking heavy quality in the air, Yosemite Valley shrouded in smoke. Yesterday’s epic cliffs gaze mysteriously at us from behind big silvery smoky clouds that remind me of ancient Chinese paintings– except it’s smoke, and we’re in the middle of it.
The fire has grown, air quality has decreased, fire containment is unclear, and the camp host and nearby search and rescue team are undeterred. A handful of students leave, prepare to leave, or want to leave. Other students want to cautiously yet exuberantly stay the course, and continue our adventure.
Discussing logistics with the whole group, I realize, “I’m calling it.” Too many uncertainties, coughing, headaches– and that ashy rain.
I speak, and I see a glimmer of blue sky. I hear the Merced River singing, so close. “I don’t want to leave,” and, “this is the best decision” battle within me.
We leave our camp in a few hours, and all leave for our respective homes in less than 24 hours. One dedicated camper stays solo, sending us a photo of our campfire, making us salivate with envy, wishing we were all still there too, singing together to stars and frogs. But, away from the smoke, we sleep well.
It’s smoky from Yosemite all the way south until back in my home wilderness, the Los Padres National Forest. A breath of relief: blue skies, unencumbered sunshine. Then, descending from Ojai back into Ventura, driving south on Highway 33, the marine layer: a dense fog envelops my cool hometown. Moisture and coolness. Relief.
I surf the next morning. Donning my wetsuit sealskin feels like homecoming. Slipping back into the water, I feel my dolphin ancestry stir awake. Welcome home.
Smoke on the mountains– or is that mist? I survey Ojai and our hills from the water, straddling my board loosely, feeling tall, confident, buoyant, and still wondering. 16 women of color came together, celebrated, then dispersed one day early. My decision. Did we choose correctly? How could we have done it better? How to choose and communicate with more ease, next time?
A shadow rises on the horizon. I blink ocean water out of my nearsighted eyes, refocusing my gaze. This. Yes. Now.
I paddle towards the rising wave, get into position, and turn towards shore. Forward. I anchor my gaze on land, push my arms deep into the water, and pull back, paddling hard. Commit. Now. I push down and pop up into Virabhadrasana II, gazing down the line, letting the waves guide my body, soaring, connected, free. Hips pull west, dig into the peeling lip. Bend knees, drop down the face. Slight tilt towards the horizon, rise back up the lip again. Keep carving and dropping, subtle movements and solid decisions that elicit tangible shifts that carry me to shore smiling, peaceful, whole. A nonverbal ancient conversation silences my inner maelstrom and centers me in this, here, now.
Jiling Lin is a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac), herbalist, yoga teacher, multidisciplinary artist, and adventurer. Jiling’s integrative medical practice in Ventura, CA reconnects humans with the wild beauty of their inner and outer landscapes through nature, art, movement and ritual. She is faculty for the Esalen Institute, Balanced Rock Foundation’s Yoga Teacher training and Yosemite expeditions, and Artemisia Academy’s Herbal Apprenticeship Program. Find Jiling backpacking the Sespe, surfing at C-Street, and on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.Discover more from Jiling Lin .