October 16, 2015. Coffee in hand, I wander in predawn darkness through my candle-lit living room. The outside doors are open to the sweet, fresh smells of wet soil from last night’s thunderstorm, a brief respite from our five-year drought. I let my dog out to sit on his deck bed where he can watch from our high hillside view to the river below or to the skies above. Not wanting to turn on lights, I join him for a while with a flashlight. The darkness reveals a plethora of stars I have come to recognize. In the stillness of the heavens only a shooting star and a communication satellite are in motion, both travelling in the space between me and the Milky Way.
From the deck I see through my large picture windows back into the house. In my living room I have a large waterfall and pond. I see my candles reflect off its river-rocks. Its arrhythmic melody of circulating water reminds me of river sounds I hope to hear again some day.
The very first outline of the mountains across the valley is made visible as Earth turns toward the sun. I already know what this early light will reveal, for I have made friends with every tree and rock on these seven acres I am responsible for tending. What I never know ahead is the color of the sunrise light on the shape-shifting clouds.
This has been the worst year in five years of drought—fire smoke from our nearby national park has filled our valley and made breathing difficult, the constant threat of a wildfire has made us all nervous, an attempted arson fire has made us angry. Some wells have gone dry, two of our three rivers are barely running, the third one below me flows slowly between exposed rocks of the river bed. Conditions are even worse in towns across the state. I have given up watering flower pots and my little patch of grass for my dog, never leave the faucet running, collect cold water in a bucket before the shower gets warm, flush less often. I frequently check the water level in the storage tank filled from my well. I sigh with relief when it still holds the only water for me and to save my house if a fire threatens. I have watched many of my trees die and mourned their loss, watched the birds and small animals dwindle in numbers, rarely see bees or hear crickets anymore.
The big animals are struggling to find food. I am not upset to see the deer eat what leaves they can find near the house, or even to see the few pesky gophers steal roots. The bears climb trees for acorns and peer into neighbors’ kitchen windows in hopes the dinners they smell might be for them. We in our small village have talked about bear sightings and shared photos of their thin bodies. Lately something strange has happened: We have accepted them as our natural neighbors, on sightings don’t get too alarmed anymore, understand their difficulties, are pleased to see them washing in whatever water they can find, and are saddened when we learn of yet another killed by a car.
Still we fear the mountain lions and coyotes whose prey includes our pet dogs and cats, and our sheep and goats. They are to be taken seriously as predators also caught in this drought.
The welcomed thunderstorm of last night was also foreboding. Local disaster authorities have informed us a very strong El Nino may lessen our drought with a coming season of excessive rain—dead trees soaked with rain could fall, jam our rivers, cause flooding, take out bridges, and, along with mudslides, leave many of us trapped in our village. We have been told to gather enough supplies to stay in our homes for as long as a month. Accustomed to the stress of drought and the threat of fire, learning of possible floods to come seems surreal. My bag is ready in the event my dog and I need to flee a fire, but now I have started building up our supply of food, water and other essentials in case flooding keeps us here.
The sun, still hidden from my view behind the dark mountains to the east, now shines on high clouds remaining from the night’s storm. This morning their color is brilliant white and I imagine them as a heavenly choir singing “alleluia” to rejoicing landscapes.
My dog lets me know he is ready for his morning walk along a nearby trail above my property. But I’m not quite finished with my thoughts and he is willing to wait for me.
You see, I want to cry this morning. I want to cry from some deep, deep place within me. It doesn’t feel like joy, not sadness either. It is something quite different. I can read and learn all about climate change, but to experience it as an immediate reality is to know its truth. My tears bear witness of this. I wish every drop I shed could baptize another human into this awareness. I wish as well my tears could comfort those now suffering from droughts and floods in other lands.
This morning is about being one with Earth, unseparated, a participant within its embrace. I cannot stand alone as an object when I smell the wet earth, watch the stars, heed the animals, walk among trees, and cherish my dog. I am the truth that Earth and I are in communion. I am Earth and blessed to have awakened into this morning of stars and sunrise. I am Earth experiencing itself in this small village, in these precious moments after one thunderstorm.