Of Smoke, Hurricanes, Death, and Life!

What a bizarre feeling it was, lying in our tent with my eyes stinging and my lungs aching from smoke, checking my laptop yet again for an update of the air quality forecast. Periodically, I’d then switch to the screen I’d kept open in order to track the progress of Irma, knowing our dear friends in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) were preparing for the Class 5 hurricane that was predicted to sweep directly across their idyllic island home. Meanwhile, I get a text from my daughter in Portland, saying it was literally raining ash, as winds carried in the sooty reminder that most of their favorite natural forest area along the Gorge was up in flames, and moving closer.IMG_1810-ArmageddonSticks+Ken

I felt like I was in a scene from an Armageddon movie.

We’d been looking forward to our family’s annual camping trip – a week at our favorite high mountain lake. My husband, Ken, and I were going to go set up camp, then a couple days later be joined by my daughter, son-in-law and new grandpuppy. But numerous forest fires in the area had forced cancellation of that plan, and driven us west instead of east, in search of clean ocean air – us and everyone else who’d been planning to go to the mountains! Not to mention those who were apparently making an impromptu Labor Day day-trip to the coast, in hopes of giving their lungs a break from the unsafe levels of smoke that had been hanging around in the Valley for several days.

In the forty years I’ve lived in the Willamette Valley, I have never seen that many people on the Oregon Coast. Again, the bumper-to-bumper traffic was like a scene from a doomsday movie, as everyone searched in vain for someplace they could… well, breathe!

We spent many hours – like, eight of them – driving further and further north, checking out campsites as we went, in hopes the smoke would clear. Though not as thick as we’d come from, even here it was still smoky. Another first for me. I felt a real sense of grief, as my beloved Oregon coast, which had always offered solitude and renewal, was not even coughing up (pun intended) an open campsite, let alone clean air, anywhere!

Finally, after searching in vain all the way up the coast, we headed inland, in hopes of finding a spot at a little campground we’d heard of that was off the beaten path. But after 45 more minutes of windy roads, we discovered not only was the campground closing the next day, but even camping off-road was not an option due to smoke levels, which had gotten worse again as we’d driven inland.

Sparing more detail, suffice to say we ended up in a hotel that night. In Tillamook. (Of cheese fame.) It’s a few miles inland from the ocean. When I asked the desk clerk what the smell was we’d noticed on the way in, (“Am I smelling fish, this far inland?”) she said, “Fish? Nah, it usually it smells like cows.”

Duh. We were in cow country, and yes, of course, now that she mentioned it, even our smoke-affected nostrils could tell it was really cow dung we were smelling.

Grateful for air-conditioned relief, and a surprisingly good Chinese dinner a mile or so down the road (where it still reeked of cow dung), we got a good night’s sleep in what we came to refer to as The CowFish Hotel.

IMG_1842-M&P&SummerWelcomeThe next morning, after a refreshing swim in the pool and a decent breakfast, we found a nice spot in a really lovely coastal campground nearby, where (despite the initial day of mild smoke and concern for our BVI friends described above) we ended up having a great remainder of the week. As I let go of regret and resistance and fully accepted what was, the rest of the time unfolded beautifully.

Annamieka, Peter and my amazingly cute new grandpuppy, Summer, joined us a couple days later. We hiked, we biked, we kayaked. We plunged in the ocean (which was mere steps away from our campsite.) We read Rumi poetry around a campfire – (fires being allowed again after a glorious thunderstorm and subsequent day of rain!) After the prayed-for rain, it cleared, and we were blessed with a few of the most perfect, warm, sunny, windless days I’ve experienced on the Oregon Coast. We had a really wonderful, renewing time together, having discovered a new spot we might never have found, had Mother Nature not forced us into new territory.

 

 

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As for our BVI friends: They lived through a record-breaking Class 5 Hurricane. They were right smack in the eye of it. Their home is demolished, its roof having been blown off and furniture and other contents swirled around them, as they huddled in their laundry room, fearing imminent death. They are still in shock. Yet, when we greeted them at the airport a week or so later, they both said they were forever changed by the amazing kindness they had been shown by so many people, mostly strangers, in the aftermath.

Their adjustment to a “new normal” is just beginning. As is all of ours, I think. This is a time of such great change. Unprecedented in many ways. And yet, sometimes being forced into new territory – physically and/or emotionally, mentally, spiritually – having your very foundations shaken, or your roof blown away, can bring with it blessings of equally unfathomable magnitude.

Within the last few weeks, I also witnessed a dear friend go through the process of dying. He and his wife both experienced the full gamut of emotions surrounding his imminent death, including intense fear and anger. Deep, old issues within and between them came up in not always pretty ways. And yet, by the time of his passing, it was as if they’d survived their own Class 5 emotional hurricane, and found its eye of grace. The peace each of them experienced as he passed was indescribable.

This “amazing grace,” this unutterable peace, this state of pure Love is available to every single one of us in every moment. This is the grace I find myself calling on more and more frequently now, as outer storms intensify. Between natural disasters, political uncertainties, acts of terrorism, new nuclear missiles, social justice atrocities, increasing polarization on so many levels, not to mention all the personal hardships of many people I know and love….sometimes it all just feels a little overwhelming.

And yet, what I’m finding is, aided by the smoke for my family and me, the hurricane for my BVI friends, or death itself for the other couple mentioned, life seems to be forcing us all to find new places. Deeper places, within ourselves. To find the place in our hearts which, like the eye of the hurricane, is always a stillpoint, a haven of everlasting peace.

Amidst the outer roar, it gently beckons us. We have but to quiet ourselves enough to heed its call, to deepen our awareness of this wellspring of peace, compassion and grace.

During these times of great and profound change, I deeply believe we must, right now, become the change we seek. If I want to experience peace, justice, balance and harmony in the outer world (in the myriad of ways that I now perceive just the opposite!) I must first create it within myself.

ItIMG_6591-N-MeditatingBeach’s not easy. It takes courage to look that honestly at oneself. But I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that creating peace from the inside out is our only hope. So I redouble my commitment. I forgive myself when I fall short. And I commit again.

Love heals. It is the most powerful force in the Universe. I take great solace in knowing that.

Blessings to us all. We are all in this together.

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12 Comments

  1. Oh, Nancy, thank you for this essay! You put into words what it’s been like for us.

    Also, once again, I want to thank you for your amazing Pain CD. For years now it has stayed, ready to go, on my night stand. Your voice has led me hundreds, if not thousands, of times through the difficult realm of pain. I still marvel at how each word you chose is so inspired. And although we haven’t been in touch, I feel your warm and soothing compassion every time I hear your voice.

    So, once again, from the depth of my heart, thank you for walking with me by way of this CD. I am forever grateful.

    Reply
    • Vicki, thank YOU for taking time to write this. You have made my day. THIS is why I do the work I do. Love and blessings to you and yours…

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  2. Well said. I too have grievedfor my Oregon, burning so ravagedly in so many areas. I especially have thought about the animals…..knowing they have no place to flee….wanting safety and care for them too.

    I was also at the coast on Labor Day weekend, anticipating the clean fresh ocean air….getting instead heat, smoke, humidity…. it was good to read your comments and find that you had ultimately landed in a wonderful place….

    I read the teachings, after the elections, that each of us must focus on being in a grounded, centered place, non reactive, steady in our calmness… and living from a deeply trusting state. It has been an ongoing and good practice throughout this time. I was glad to read your words. They are a reminder and I was glad for the focus on love.

    O

    Reply
    • Yes, I think we all need to constantly remind ourselves, amidst all the bombardment, to choose Love. “I choose to make my love stronger than my fear.” That’s my main “bottom-line” affirmation. I’m repeating it a LOT these days! It is indeed a good practice, and staying centered in Love is so very needed! Thank you, Jenny, for your efforts to do so – we’re all in this together! Good to hear from you!

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  3. Beautifully stated, dear one–thank you for the reminders.

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    • Thanks, Elizabeth. Much love.

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  4. I love you. Thank you for speaking our hearts.

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    • I love you, too, Kim.

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  5. Nancy thank you for the beautiful expression of our sadness around the forest fires in our beloved state.
    I was on a three week trip in beautiful Scotland which is so much like Oregon. So I missed most of the horrible smoke that all of you experienced.
    Sending you much love and thanks for your newsletters. Namaste Kay

    Reply
    • Nice to hear from you, Kate! Glad you got to visit Scotland – very beautiful indeed. I’ve fond memories… Much love back to you. Good to feel heart connections. Especially now. Namaste.

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  6. Dear Nancy, Thank you so much for your writing about the visit to the coast and all the other interwoven components. It means a great deal to me to have your perspective. Your writing is helping me find my own voice. I’ve needed to write, as well, to document, witness and share with others what has been happening in Oregon this summer.

    Sincerely,
    with gratitude,
    Lynne

    Reply
    • I’m so glad, Lynne, that my writing has had this impact. The changes that have been occurring have been powerful experiences for many of us, from forest fires to hurricanes and more. The number of replies I’ve gotten – on this blog post, via phone calls, and many personal replies to my newsletter – has been indicative of how deeply so many of us are being affected by all this, here in Oregon and around the globe. Thank you for taking time to write to me, and for taking time to write about your experience in your own words. Blessings…

      Reply

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