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As you leave the coastal plain that is usually picture perfect Santa Barbara, you climb quickly through the coastal mountain range that parallels the coast.  I soon notice that the golden hills are no longer what could be called “golden.”  They’re parched not-quite-brown. Murky brown? Dusty brown? Last gasp brown, dry-as-hell brown, plain hungry for water brown..  The air is hot and it’s gathering a bit of force as I notice clouds of dust blowing by in the now light wind.  “It’s just a matter of time,” I tell myself.  Someone or something will set off a blaze that will cause our community to spring into action.  Quickly. The small sign of fire danger by the side of the road reads “extreme.”

The blackened trunks on the hills of small trees are like sumi-e stroke paintings.  They are sentinels of fires from years past and warnings of fires yet to be.  This is, after all, autumn in  Southern California.  Sure we like our pumpkin lattés as much as our East Coast neighbors, but here they come with a cost.  We can’t plead innocence or detachment.  We quickly go on high alert.  What’s the glow behind the nearby hill? 

What are the latest evacuation orders?  Wind forecast?  Behind the delights of the season celebrated  lurks danger.  Not just for a day or two but for the many months of winter when the Santa Ana winds are likely to kick up a stir. Some will be harmed.  Some will escape danger with too close for comfort calls.  On again off again and on and on.   I’m always relieved when the fire season passes.

I can categorize the feelings the wind generates in me as uneasiness.  My East Coast self associates wind with storm, which usually passes quickly as it moves on.   I can’t deny there is an  undercurrent of excitement also.

In Thousand Oaks, our bedroom was on the northeast corner of the lot at the last home we lived in. It was NOT pleasant when the wind blew and our little corner of the world shook with it.

Soon after we moved to CA from GA, a large fire blew through our community, prodded by the Santa Anas, as the flames made their  way to the Pacific Ocean.  I went out of doors in the middle of the day to greet a black sky with an orange sun blazing through it.  I’d never seen anything like it and was in awe. It looked surreal.  It was Halloween.The silhouette of a wicked witch on a broomstick riding across the face of the sun  could have fit right into that apocalyptic image.

One of my daughters has done a series of paintings about this time of year which I referred to in an earlier blog. They capture the unease, the beauty and the heightened sense of danger that is generated by a close call with Santa Anas.  It’s life in Southern California.

So now the fire cycle begins again soon.  I can’t welcome it, but I have learned a  certain amount of tolerance towards it. Situations are fluid and can go from being threatening run-for-your-life events, to being in the clear very quickly, with just a slight change in the force or direction of the wind that is almost impossible to predict.

I always feel deep gratitude for the work done by the firefighters who rush to be of help.  God bless them.  Each and everyone.  Here we go.

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.

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