The priest Jui-yen called, “Master!” to himself every day, and answered to himself, “Yes!”
Then he would say, “Be aware!” and he would reply, “Yes!”
“Don’t be deceived by anyone!”, “No! No!”
~ The Gateless Barrier, Case 12
Call and response in Zen is a wonderful appreciation of relationships between self and others. It is an affirmation that we are all in this together, through all conditions, unsettling or reassuring. Nearly two weeks ago, the Kincade Fire, which has now grown to 78,000 acres. swept over our family vineyard property and home, with winds clocked at 96 mph in the Mayacamas Mtns to the east of us. Viewing the scene a week ago, I could not help but feel like the land was blanketed like a vast, snowy landscape, only rather than white, the colors that touched everything were grey ash and black char. The fire has been calling us for two decades, and we have spent hours upon hours in preparation for its arrival. Then it arrived. Our house was spared. Yes. Yes.
And I called, too. For the first time since the fire, today I called several of our neighbors, whose homes I can see from my driveway. They are now all cinders and chimneys. One neighbor lost his house and guest house, along with large blocks of his 40-acre vineyard. His average grape yield in a year has been about 120 tons; this year he salvaged 10% of that. He said, “Yep. Yep. It is all gone.” At 86 years old, I expected him to say that he was throwing in the towel. Instead he added, “And I’m gonna rebuild.” We both broke out ln a long laugh; more in relief and respect for his spirit than in anticipation of the daunting task ahead. “I want to put something up that the fire can nibble at next time it comes.” He added, “I guess we really never learn the big lessons.” No. No.
The fire called, and in each of our ways, we responded. My ATV (all-terrain vehicle) responded: it was burned to the frame, with even the aluminum rims running like rivulets down the hill; aluminum melts at 1,221° F. And the half-dozen red-plastic cans of gasoline, lined in a row as a kind of fuel dump away from the house, responded: they were wholly untouched by flame. The calls in our lives come large and small, again and again. And all we respond differently: some re-build and some do not. Who, in this way, could ever be deceived?