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Poetry from the 3:15 Experiment: with no fire scent (plus some comments about the May Santa Barbara fire, change & the Dalai Lama)

June 1, 2009

Sunday August 5, 2007 3:15am Ventura

sky is orange
translucent bright
step outside
walk inside one
drippy sticky
warm & heavy
likely only
those streetlights cause
it not aliens
I have never seen
the sky this orange
with no fire scent
through windows slip
even as the deck
gets a dusting
ash from some fire
50 miles away
this close
to make sky this orange
would make this night roar
it is quiet
harbor foghorn
his steady breath

A few days ago, on a foggy afternoon, I drove north to San Francisco and took the short cut over San Marcos Pass through the mountains behind Santa Barbara. The recent fire there came right up to the road in many places, and even crossed over. The hillsides even now are hazy smoky gray with ash; what vegetation that’s left is brown, leaves waiting to fall. The bareness of the hillsides was shocking, and I found it difficult not to sob with grief. Instead of low shrubs of soft yellow monkey flower, there was nothing. Instead of taller shrubs of elderberry with creamy umbels, there was nothing. Instead of various chamise and sages, grays and greens with spikes of purple or white flowers, there was nothing. Nothing. No bright yellow fremontias, no pricky poppy all fluffy white petals with egg yolk centers. No Indian paintbrush. No lupine purple and smelling like grape koolaid.

Fire is normal, typical for this landscape.

But we have changed the natural progression here, we have kept the fires from burning on a regular basis and instead they grow too hot too fierce. We have built our homes on these lovely hillsides with views of the ocean; these hillsides in particular are moments away from UC Santa Barbara, the beach, a hip downtown full of world class restaurants and shopping.

We went camping the weekend the fire raged. We drove into the evening high into the local mountains to Pine Mountain. As we turned a corner, the fire glowed, and we could see it along the ridge line, at times growing stronger, at times, dying back. From our campsite that night after dinner, we could watch the fire in the distance. My husband was afraid, even though we knew it was many miles away, this was a fast and fierce fire. The next day, we talked with someone else camping on the mountain, a refugee from the fire: her house had burned down the day before. Many people lost their homes and their belongings; some of them, friends of friends, had lost their homes in the previous fire last fall.

Dalai Lama by MattFreeman weekend, I read Pico Iyer’s book on the Dalai Lama, The Open Road. The Dalai Lama has seen his country, Tibet, destroyed by the fire of the Chinese. Pico Iyer himself lost to fire his choldhood home, his family home, and a beloved picture that the Dalai Lama had given of himself as a child to the young Pico.

Pico Iyer quotes the Dalai Lama as saying “Change is part of the world,” distilling Buddhism into these six words. The Dalai Lama told Pico right after he won the Nobel

that sometimes he felt that he could never do enough, and that nothing he did could ever really affect things. He told me that it was “up to us poor humans to make the effort” one step at a time, and again, as if invoking the words of the Buddha, he spoke of “constant effort, tireless effort, pursuing clear goals with sincere effort.”

Then here at the end of the book, Pico recounts that as they walked out the door, he turned out the light.

It’s such a small thing he said, it hardly makes a difference at all. And yet nothing is lost in the doing of it, and maybe a little good can come of it, if more and more people remember this small gesture in more and more rooms.

Thank you for reading my blog. Listening and paying attention to each other, and to the earth, is one small gesture we can make.

For more poetry, catch the train or check out ReadWritePoem.

Photo of the Dalai Lama by Matt Freeman from

Here’s more about switching off lights.

And there’s more about the 3:15 Experiment at the 3:15 Experiment website.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2009 4:25 am

    That’s a reallt beautiful piece of writing Gwendolyn. Controlled the tone all the way through, balanced and genuine and the ending is ptich perfect. One of your best pieces ever I think.

  2. June 2, 2009 6:14 am

    my goodness, Paul, thank you very much!

  3. June 2, 2009 9:35 am

    Drippy sticky, I like that!

  4. June 2, 2009 12:12 pm

    Wonderful poem. I am bookmarking it to read it again!

    countries lay scattered on ground

  5. June 4, 2009 6:36 pm

    Thank you Andy and Gautami, for stopping by and reading this! Glad you liked it too!

  6. June 12, 2009 12:49 pm

    Oops! I meant to say:

    “Beautiful. I could see this in my mind as I read it, and I enjoyed reading the backstory to this.


    Feel free to delete the first comment from me. Sorry!

  7. June 13, 2009 1:26 am

    This is just beautiful.

    PS My husband is creating a Ganesh sculpture right now:

  8. June 13, 2009 7:55 am

    I like the “not aliens” line. Great composition.

  9. June 16, 2009 5:14 am

    You know, I’ve never had to face widespread destruction of fires, but you describe it so vividly and heartbreakingly.

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