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What a difference a week makes. Last week I was revelling in the grandeur of the great outdoors. This week I’m sequestered from it, seldom venturing out-of-doors because of the proximity of a fire.

The streets of our city are now relatively deserted. Two weeks before Christmas. The people who are venturing out are wearing specific kinds of face masks to help filter the fouled air. We’ve been repeatedly warned to stay inside.  Many stores and most schools are closed. Neighboring towns have had to evacuate.

Some people leave at the first sign of trouble, others hold out. There’s always a certain amount of uncertainty around these events and unless the firemen order an evacuation, it’s a judgement call.  From my personal experience,  the women are the first to say, let’s get-the-hell-out-of-here! The precariousness of a slight wind change can change the future of a life in just moments.

The world starts feeling increasingly and uncomfortably surreal as a fire progresses because nothing looks as you would expect it to. This what has become of our picture postcard town over the last several days. I haven’t shown the fallen ash that coats our trees, sidewalks and cars.

air quality

There’s a fine line between laughing and crying they say, and there’s a fine line between reactions to the spectacular nature of a major fire. Fascination quickly turns into Alarm. At first, I note a subtle difference as sunlight is filtered through the smoke. It’s like looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses. Everything becomes tinged with pink. It doesn’t register immediately as a danger sign to me.  One glance at the sun, as a cherry red disk in the sky, lets me know otherwise. That triggers a small bit of excitement within me. You understand very quickly at a primal level that you might be in for a battle. The fight/flight response is activated.

better pink sky

Pink turns to yellow before turning to yuck.

better yellow

The sky quickly loses its allure when it takes on a grey-brown yellow color as visibility and air quality diminish.

The vicious Santa Ana winds have not hit here. We experience an eerie stillness that feels just plain weird.  Mild excitement morphs into mild anxiety, as reports from other affected communities come in.  It’s wait and see for us. I gasp as videos of the fire’s ferocity become available. I try to imagine how it feels to homeowners as images of destroyed lives and homes are shown on the tv screen.

house burned

How quickly one’s life and landscape can transform from “normal” to deadly!  It’s awe-inspiring and horrifying to see the color of the night skies above the active fire ridges turn from black to psychedelic orange. Our electricity flickers off and on as if to remind me that it could go down at any moment for good, making a difficult situation much more so.

on fire!

I have an ominous feeling that the destruction of our natural world is mirroring the destruction of our political landscape.  My sense of stability has been altered since Trump took office.The word “apocalypse” comes to mind. I’m reminded of the emotional discomfort I felt in my teens when I watched the movie On the Beach  The film made me into a lifelong anti-nuclear activist.

At one point, the fire reaches the Pacific.

burning to the coasr

Life can change in an instant. We all know this, but living through a natural disaster brings it home with force. I now think of the many people for whom this uncertainty is a daily reality and acknowledge I’ve had it easy in my life.  I resist thinking that this is the new normal, although my governor and my knowledge, suggest otherwise.

Because of climate change, we are told that there is a likelihood of these events becoming more frequent. Fire season has always been a part of life in CA, but now the season has extended in both directions. The unease I feel is partly a result of the knowledge that there are millions of Americans who still do not take this threat (i.e. climate change) seriously. Woe unto them and woe unto us. Their denial means we all face a more precarious future, living on the edge of fire, hurricanes, flooding etc. that will present more and more challenges and bring with it more tragedy.

Please, please pay attention.


Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • Carol Palladini says:

    Thanks for your blog, Dianne. While I feel relief that we no longer live in SB, or the ranch in Ojai, I feel very sad for the beauty that has been burned. People will now rebuild with fireproof structures and roofs,and life will go on, though the sad memories of beloved homes will always be there.
    I wish you and yours health and happiness in the new year. Hugs, Carol

  • Ann Starck says:

    Please tell me have packed at least a “go” suitcase. The news last night (Mon) was scarier. Ann

  • Judi Miller Wallner says:

    Well said Dianne. I got off the phone with you and when I went to bed last night my mind went to our very old, dying and precariously balanced pine trees. We live in what is called “The Woods.” A fire would just rip through our neighborhood as in addition to the trees, many including us have wood shingle roofs. The threat to our survival in a country run by a mad man and the effects of global warming has made life reminiscent of childhood when we were taught to duck and cover under our desks. The sense of a threat permeated our lives and it still does. Tranquility feels a long ways away.

  • devapnek says:

    Thanks, Margaret. I hope you’re right. I can’t imagine how exhausting it must be to work the front lines of this fire. BTW, your paintings are beautiful!

  • My brother and his family live in Ventura and they have been safe so far. I have never seen fires this late in the season 🙁 I am expecting my husband to be called on a security assignment at any point. My son-in-law just left today as part of a crew that does the chipping and clean-up after the fire goes through. People don’t realize how fast and furious these fires can move. The vegetation in So. Cal. actually “spits” balls of fire as it burns, my husband has been on enough fires to see how this occurs. Stay safe, hopefully there will be containment and some sense of normalcy soon.

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