The past month in this year of the pandemic has been the most trying. Since the unprecedented dry lightening event of August 15th, 2.5 million acres have burned in my beloved home state. Today marks the 26th straight day of the worst smoke and air quality the Bay Area has ever seen on record. This past weekend, Napa spiked to 109 degrees (an all-time record), and my power was shut off twice–albeit briefly. (I don’t have air conditioning, by the way, so it was extremely uncomfortable to try and get any relief, even with a fan.)

The smoke has been so awful and thick and frankly, choking, even the birds couldn’t fly. These turkey vultures just sat on my neighbor’s property on these young vines trying to find some relief. I put out several five-gallon buckets of water at my place for them.

Add to this that I was also under a “red flag warning”…meaning in addition to the threat of power shut-offs, high temps, and smoke that was as damaging to your lungs as smoking 20 packs of cigarettes a day, Napa and the Bay Area were under a high wind warning. High winds + high temps + existing fires + dry brush (fuel for future fires) = we were all ready to evacuate. Napa and surrounding counties have been extremely on edge and always on alert, all hours of the day.

This past Tuesday, the smoke was so thick at my place it never got light out and my flood lights stayed on all day. I snapped this at 8:30 in the morning:

If the pandemic and the fires/smoke didn’t feel predatory enough, I also have an unwelcome neighbor–a mountain lion. I caught him on my camera this past winter hanging out on my art barn porch around midnight, but he’s been a more frequent guest, and has been hunting/killing domestic animals in my immediate neighborhood. Here he is caught on camera on my neighbor’s patio this past week. He is truly a beautiful, magnificent animal, but we are hoping Fish & Game will safely trap and transport him to another, more rural locale. (And given the unhealthy air plus this threat, my animals have been inside for over a week and only go outside for supervised bathroom breaks…they are so bored.)

So…the stress of this time of unprecedented fires–which the entire west coast is experiencing right now–has got me thinking most especially about trying to find the positive in the negative. Because there HAS to be an end in sight after what has been an exceptionally trying year psychologically, financially, and socially. 

If there was any year to try your hand at art journaling and trying to figure out how to manage your mental health, I think 2020 is calling. A couple of months ago I was trying to brainstorm with Gina Lee Kim an art journaling class for Craft Napa, because she is really excellent at art journaling, and using art and imagery to work through problems. I loved this art journal page she made that she shared during a FaceTime brainstorm session:

The movement in this…the tension between the up and down, the light vs. dark, the interplay between the two…I thought this would be a great class for Craft Napa to help people process all they are feeling this year. 

So with that in mind, if I was to make a little Highs & Lows, an up/down journal right now, the positive that is rising above all of the stress I have listed above would be counterbalanced by the beauty and benevolence of the following:

• Kindness of neighbors. There is a gentleman in Napa by the name of Scott Sedgley. He is a retired fire fighter and fire captain, and is running for mayor for the city of Napa.  He knows I don’t live in the city limits and can’t vote for him but he heard I was having problems hooking up Maybel to my car with the threat of evacuating, and he told me next time I have problems, just call him and he will come over and help me hook up. How kind is that?

• Next Door App– A lot of people lost their homes on the other side of Napa in the Lake Berryessa region. They are looking for clothing and furniture while displaced and now temporarily renting rooms and apartments until they get on their footing again. Everyone is pitching in to help give them things. It feels good to help pitch in and feel useful during a time that is so isolating.

• I am very grateful to Jim…who flew out this week and helped me through what’s been a pinnacle of this pandemic with the fires and smoke. When it got so dark and smokey, he remarked that if I had texted him how bad it was here, he wouldn’t have believed me. Since he’s been here he helped me daisy chain the generators to Maybel for power, as well as manually cleaned the inside of my car of all the ash (which is everywhere here). I didn’t ask…I just woke up and it was done. 🙂

• I am grateful for work that is gratifying: the Craft Napa website for registration goes live on Tuesday! It has been wonderful to be focused on work–a good kind of work that I love to do–and take my mind off of what is happening outside and beyond my control.

Wishing everyone–especially those up and down the west coast–some peace and that we can all collectively breathe easier very, very soon.