Count the stars in the sky

~ PZI Miscellaneous koan

Sometimes dog koans address cat problems in a fresh and more intimate way. Let me explain: on Monday morning, with the early morning news, I jumped in my old Ford pickup and lumbered north up the highway to check on our property in Sonoma County. As I got above Marin, I felt I was driving toward war. Streaming south on U.S. Hwy 101 were three lanes choked with refugees from the fires, many of whom had lost homes or had been served evacuation orders in the middle of the night. And roaring north in the thin traffic, with lights blazing, were numerous convoys of first responders; Sheriff deputies, emergency medical vehicles and fire engines from districts around northern California.

Passing through northern Santa Rosa, I found the destruction numbing. Big box stores on both sides of the freeway were burned and gutted; a few people stood dazed on a sidewalk outside a mobile home park that was incinerated. Houses and hotels were still aflame on the eastern hillside as I drove by. I was concerned that satellite pictures had shown a hotspot about a mile south of our Healdsburg property. But that night the wind died down and the fire burned itself out, so I headed home. However, the Furies of wildfire were not yet done with us.

The small Pocket Fire, near Geyserville, caught a backing northwest wind, and began to march south toward our place. Once again, I drove north and working into the night, stopped up the drains in our flat roof and flooding it with garden hoses. Work finished, I sat quietly, facing north, and waited. I waited for fire. But later In the evening, the wind shifted east, and smoke was pushed out toward the coast, clearing the night sky. Glittering brightly above me was the Milky Way and the vast universe of stars. The sky, once terrible, was now beautiful. There are plenty of fire koans in the Zen collections: put out the fire across the river, fire boy seeks fire, the conflagration at the end of the eon. But for me, that night, I just counted the stars in the sky.