I am relieved and grateful to be home again after 18 days as a fire refugee, but the Soberanes wildfire still rages on to the south and east, today threatening the Big Sur Valley.
A therapist neighbor says we are a community of both relief and grief. Some of us are home, cleaning up fire gel on the outside and smoke on the inside. But others are sifting through the blackened debris of their houses and their lives.
And people in Big Sur still wait and watch. And listen.
For the roar of fire.
Edvard Munch titled this painting in German “Der Schrei der Natur,” “The Scream of Nature.” In Norwegian he called it “Skrik,” meaning “shriek,” a more pained and searing sound than what we usually call “The Scream.”
One of the six “Ecojustice Principles” of the wise and deep “Earth Bible” series is “The Principle of Voice: Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.”
Nature makes all kinds of noises. Deep calls to deep. All creation is groaning as in childbirth.
But the noise I’m hearing from this fire and seeing in this painting is a shriek of pain. We humans treat nature as an object, not a subject. We stab the landscape with the destructive forces of climate change, drought, overpopulation, a careless and cruel attitude of ownership and objectification. (I’m talking about you, hikers who started the fire, but we’ve all set the dry stage for worldwide wildfires.)
This fire is a shriek of pain from the land.
Munch wrote about this painting, “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
Nature is loud and has something to say. Sometimes the trees of the field clap their hands in joy. But today to me she sounds sad and mad.
My Wednesday Blue Theology postings have been Red for the past few weeks, red fire, red blood shed by the dead firefighter, red sorrow, red rage. I do really want to get back to the sea again, to the call of the running tide. The ocean also roars.
Fire and water are still speaking. Maybe my job for now is to pay attention.