From Rubbled Ash


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Does the cause really matter?  Whether by wind-ember, arson, or friction-sparked words, the tangled fuel of uncleared underbrush between us ignited.  Structures glowed red, then orange, then yellow, then blue, to finally blacken and crumble to grey.

Even the neighborhood is gone, landmarks obliterated as if in a blast zone.  Gone is the round barn, our marriage gazebo, lilac trees, altars, your hands on my skin.

Now cool enough to approach, only isolated stones remain, islands emerging from a blanket of rubbled ash – a slate chimney, broken concrete, a sandstone staircase leading nowhere.

A two-pathed question emerges: stay or go, rebuild or diverge?  We have long felt the pull apart, a wishbone aching to snap.  Perhaps fire, Pele, ashes, are painful kindnesses.  Some cones open their seeds only to fire.

Ash bestows fertility. Minerals captured in living tissues return to the soil to be used again. Rainforest cultures know this cycle of slash, burn, replant, repeat.  The slash, the felling of the green between us, ached more than the burn.  The slash opened.  The burn cauterized.

I know how to sift.  Little-used skills gained in archaeology field-school on the banks of the Snake River.  First map, then shovel into screens, then collect jumbled pieces – some smooth, some jagged, some too small to recognize, some too large to ignore.  Turn over each shard, decide to bag and tag – or to trash.  Later, spread the rescued pieces onto long lab tables, look for patterns, fashion a plausible story, publish the results, await peer review.

So, I sift, I assess, and I write. Trying to weave sense from senselessness – knowing any tale reconstructed from fragments will always hold more questions than answers.

I watch to see what rises. I hope for green, but not with you.


I wrote this in 2017 when fires in Sonoma County, California – a place I inhabited for seventeen years – echoed profound changes burning through my personal landscape. Enough time has passed to share these words, that like a cairn, mark a pivot point.  Old structures are missed. New structures have formed. I’m still sifting – learning that green rises at its own pace.

One thought on “From Rubbled Ash

  1. Mark Hickman

    River, “amazing” is the only word I use to describe you. I am amazed at the way you can interweave different pieces of your existence and tell a tale with such vision and clarity. So glad to have you as a friend who frequently touches my life in a positive way. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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