Meagre Palace of Midgard Part Two

I just spent two weeks in evacuation mode, fleeing first the smoke then the actual threat of the Mendocino Complex Fires, which made it to the valley beyond the ridge which is behind the community I live in. My view of Mt. Konocti this morning is either smoky or misty, but I suspect it’s smoke that veils it.  Driving back yesterday I saw broad bulldozer lines cut into the hills. Some of the hills around the lake are either blackened or tinted hot pink from fire retardant. It’s a new twist on an old landscape, with the forest fire raging now in other counties besides ours, drawing help from as far away as Samoa and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

I have asthma and other respiratory problems, so returning to this area hasn’t been an easy prospect to face. (Even as I write, my eyes burn and my throat constricts.) But my house (and the neighborhood) survived, and the cats were growing increasingly restless in the empty apartment where I sheltered, with absolutely no furniture except a sleeping bag and a folding table and chair I bought from Target. But I was–and am–super fortunate to have had that resource. It may not be there next time I need it.

The return trip was a challenging three-hour drive in hot summer temperatures with four cats in crates, which means no chance to stop for a bathroom break because the cats might suffer in a stopped, hot car for even the five minutes it takes to grab a key from the station attendant and run to the nearest stall. Prior to setting out, I asked my “most trusted one,” Loki, for a travel blessing. Because one doesn’t ask for favors from this trickster god without offering something in return, I promised that this week I’d buy some paint to begin fixing up a woodshop on my property in order to turn it into a Loki “tiny temple.” (I wrote about this idea before the start of the fires.) Since my house is intact (thank you, firefighters!) and I have the notion that it’s a good thing to keep a fire god happy, I have pledged to begin work on this Lokean sanctuary.

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In some ways, the project will be an “architectural folly” and I imagine Loki stalking the grounds as an “ornamental (manic pixie dream god) hermit.” For example, I’ll be painting a Loki mural on the outside (really trying hard to NOT imagine him in the mural as a gratuitously shirtless, hunky firefighter…). Any future owners of this property are going to have to “just deal with it.”

Much of my impulse for this “folly” comes from a deepening connection with this trickster god. This is something I never would have expected to enter my life. Sure, I’ve had lots of odd spiritual experiences but my path is always twisty and often opaque. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be at this place, overcome with devotional love for a northern deity, I would have scoffed or thrown a coconut at you (I was living in Hawai’i then, on Pele’s land).

But another impulse comes from the recognition that we Lokeans are outcasts. I’m no stranger to that social strata, so the idea of making a place for us is an appealing thought, even if no one actually comes to visit the sanctuary besides me.

But as a teacher of mine used to say, “it’s all in the invitation,” and so perhaps this place will provide the soil to germinate the community I seek.

Are you a fellow traveller? Do let me know!

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Mendocino Complex Fire

“Lady of the Lake Interrupted”–that was going to be the original title of this post. But why not just get to the point? Almost two weeks ago I fled the thick “clam chowder” smoke of Lake County, just a few days before the advisory, then mandatory, evacuation for the North Shore communities. I begged shelter from some relatives and have been here now, in a completely empty San Francisco apartment with four cats, a sleeping bag, and several boxes of family photos (plus a few books and treasured artwork). I could have gone home a couple of days ago, but I’m hoping for more smoke to clear.

Back in May, when the volcano began to erupt in the middle of Leilani Estates in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island, friends and acquaintances began to congratulate me for “leaving Hawai’i before the eruption,” as if I’d somehow unfairly cheated fate. A lot of my friends and acquaintances back there did have to evacuate, some are still without a permanent place to live, and yes, I feel sad that I wasn’t there to have helped out as Puna “stayed classy” through the crisis (“Stay Classy Puna” is a local slogan). On the other hand, I might not have survived. Between the asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity condition that I live with, the volcanic air–or threatened toxic releases from the geothermal station– might have taken me out. I’m glad that I didn’t stay to either die or force my kids to fly over to rescue me in dire straights.

But now all those folks who think I dodged a kharmic bullet can rest easy. I have now fled the largest wildfire in California history, a fire that was just one ridge away from my home in Lake County, and though I am not in a shelter, I’m “sleeping rougher” than I have in years (on the floor), and “oh my bursitis!” I’m here knowing that the next time Lake County has a fire, I may not have anywhere to go. This apartment won’t stay vacant for long. Shelters are out, as the fragrant personal care products and cleaning products that prevent my equal and healthy access to all kinds of ordinary goods and services in the best of times, also keep me from accessing public facilities in the worst of times. I can’t afford an RV or even a truck with a camper shell, so I’m actually expending a fair amount of time obsessing over my options during the next fire, even though there are none.

Friends who would take me gladly, as a temporary evacuee, are not prepared to shelter my four cats as well. But the cats are my companions and familiars, and they go where I go.

I was lucky this time, to stay in San Francisco as the fire rages. And privileged too. A lot of people were sheltering in parks. The heat up there, in the summer, gets into three digits… can you imagine? Kids, elderly people, pets, in a tent with no fans, under those conditions? And in one park, there was only one propane burner for cooking for dozens of people. And the smoke–they couldn’t escape it like I did. Plus, a cluster of people from one of the regular shelters have come down with a norovirus blamed on donated, canned water. I have only myself to blame for getting sick from pre-made deli food.

I’m lucky too in that my house and neighborhood are intact. The firefighters did a tremendous job keeping the Ranch Fire flames away from our North Shore towns (just as they prevented the River Fire from reaching Lakeport). But other people have lost their homes. Housing is already scarce.

But this is a blog about all things woo, spiritual stuff, magic… Loki… and whatever else I feel like writing now that I no longer care much what anyone thinks. So yes, there is a woo side to this narrative. Let me continue to over-share.

Among my evacuation items, I brought most of my pagan altar doodads, my magical tools (except my crystal chalice), my tarot deck, and a few choice books that I’m in the middle of reading. (I also packed my Lois McMasters-Bujold Miles Vorkosigan books and a complete, hardbound set of Jane Austen, but I digress…).

While here, I’ve kept up my daily tantra exercises and meditations as well as my devotional practices for Frey, Gerda, Freya, and Loki (which I do in an Inclusive Heathen context, as per The Troth, combined with a greater personal and spiritual affinity with the approaches of Northern Tradition Paganism). All this has helped. Greatly. Feeling as if “my deities” are “with me” is also a comfort and these workings have deepened. I begin to understand people who rely on religion–this kind of thing is new to me.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve actually done really well in “remembering my tools” while under duress. I credit the daily practices above. Whatever it is we do, spiritually or religiously, these things can build resilience so that when crisis does strike, there’s a bit more ability to keep a cool head (at least at times) and to feel less overwhelmed (mostly). I also recognize that being here, alone, in an empty, non-toxic apartment in my old neighborhood, rather than in a public shelter among scented strangers, also contributes greatly to my resilience.

I suppose my biggest concern going back, aside from smoke exposure, is how do we build a better framework for mutual aid before the next crisis hits us? The local motto for our community is “Lake County Strong,” but old-timers are the most likely to benefit from long standing family and social networks, just as I have from a family connection here in the Bay Area. How do we have more of that for people who are marginalized and less socially connected?

I’m pondering. I’m wondering what I can do, personally, with the resources I have. Ideas are welcome.

Are you a fellow traveller? Or even a local Lokean? Let me know you’re there!

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