Weekend Meditation: On Wildfires and Tomatoes

Weekend Meditation: On Wildfires and Tomatoes

Dana Velden
Jul 6, 2008

The wildfires raging in Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness have me distracted this evening. Every day this past week, it's been my job to call my friends at the top of a road leading into the wilderness to get the latest update. Every day the fires draw in closer to people and places that I care very deeply about.

In times such as these it's important not to be alone, to gather together and take solace in each other. Mutual friends stop by and we start to build a quiet meal together. There are lots of leftovers from the 4th of July and a few bottles of wine under the cupboard.

(Image: Shundo David Haye)

As set out the food, I remember that fire is good news to the forests, waking up seeds and dormant plant species. It is a cleansing and a renewal, and not so much of a tragedy. It's part of a perfectly natural cycle that has been performing this fiery passion play since the beginning of everything. A wildfire is not the slightest bit sentimental.

People are a little different, though, more complicated: we know that nothing is permanent, that everything changes and that clinging is the source of suffering. Over and over life presents us with this lesson and yet we continue to care, to build homes and make babies, to love and form attachments to the things that are important to us. This is the activity of our humanness, the fierce and passionate declaration of our aliveness. Fires burn and we respond: rescuing and protecting and finally, in the end, letting go.

From the refrigerator come cold salads with salty bits of feta cheese and sweet chunks of melon, a chicken terrine, some olives and pickles. A precious half moon of La Tur cheese is sitting on the counter, coming to room temperature. Next to it is a bowl filled with the first of the summer tomatoes. We serve them simply sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Our first tomatoes, such a joy, so thoroughly red and juicy and sweet.

This year summer came early and hot, bringing both the wildfires and an early tomato crop. Tonight, together with my friends, I feast on both, sitting and waiting as steady as I can somehow, somewhere in the middle of it all.

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