Beauty After the Burn
One day Manjushri asked Sudhana to pick medicinal herbs, telling him to bring back anything that wasn’t medicine. Sudhana searched all over but couldn’t find anything, so he came back and said, “There is nothing that isn’t medicine.” Manjushri said, “Then bring me something that is medicine.” Sudhana picked a blade of grass and handed it to Manjushri, who held it up and said, “This medicine can kill people and it can also bring people to life.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 87 commentary
Last week, my daughter held a reception at an art gallery in the Haight-Ashbury with friends to celebrate the release of Cambium, their 40-page self-published “zine” that combines art, poetry and essays on wildland fire and the earth. The first issue, called “Unearthed”, “implies change, curiosity, action, discovery. Disruption. It asks questions. What have we taken from the ground? What has the ground taken from us? Bring back something that isn’t medicine, asked Manjushri.
One of the articles is called, “Beauty After the Burn”, written by Maureen Downing-Kunz. It begins, “As a child, I spent afternoons playing in a three-cedar grove next to a drainage ditch in suburban Louisville, Kentucky.” Now, as an engineering hydrologist and long-time California resident, she has been coming to terms with the intense wildland fires. Hiking through blackened landscapes left by the Dixie, Mosquito, and Caldor fires, she has begun to ask, “Is a forest still a forest without greenery?” There is nothing that isn’t medicine, said Sudhana.
“Despite the intense and unprecedented wildfires, life continues in the aftermath. Whether in the form of charred tree remnants with tender basal shoots, or technicolor displays of wildflowers amidst bleached shrub skeletons, a heart-stirring beauty persists.”
She quotes Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Native American scientist, “Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” This medicine can kill people and it can also bring people to life, finished Manjushri.
For millions, for hundreds of millions of years
there were fires.
Fire after fire.
Fire raging forest or jungle,
giant lizards dashing away
big necks from the sea looking out at the land in surprise—
fire after fire.
Lightning strikes by the thousands, just like today.
Volcanoes erupting, fire flowing over the land.
Huge Sequoia two foot thick fireproof bark
their cones love the heat
how long to say,
that’s how they covered the continents
ten lakhs of millennia or more.
I have to slow down my mind.
slow down my mind
Rome was built in a day.
~ Gary Snyder, Wildness: Relations of People and Place (2017)
Art: “Musical Offering”, Mayumi Oda www.mayumioda.net