The Valley Fire took Cobb Mountain on my 40th Birthday as we watched from Middletown, evacuating from the fastest fire I’ve ever seen. We watched as the entire mountain was engulfed from all sides. My friends hopefully made it off the mountain, but a few we have not yet heard from were camping at Harbin as well.
Fire Consumed the Mountain in Minutes
At first the fire and smoke seemed far away; we wondered if we could find a spot to tent nearby to wait out the fire on the other side of the mountain. An hour later as we watched the whole mountain go up in flames, we were scared and grateful to get out in time as we huddled in Middletown with residents preparing to flee their homes.
We found most of my birthday party at Buddha Thai in Middletown, fueled up to find a new place to be safe and talked to the owner, also celebrating his 60th birthday in a most unusual fashion by making us an early dinner and packing his essentials for evacuation. He spoke of losing Harbin and his livelihood as most of his customers were tourists to the hot springs nearby. His waitress was gone — she had already lost her home. I am still not sure if the restaurant survived.
Harbin Hot Springs was a perfect little getaway for my Saturday birthday party — a quiet place to recharge and be in nature, surrounded by tall trees. I spent the afternoon naked between hot and warm tubs and a beautiful medicine garden with dreamcatchers and gorgeous sculpted walkways. The walkways still remain. Around 2PM I drew the dreamcatchers in my journal from close to this spot for my Dream Society friends as a place for future meditations. It looks like there’s little left beyond the sculptures from my drawings.
For the past few weeks I have been actively dreaming in the new society, the world we want to create with world leaders trusted for their innovative ideas, creativity and ability to activate others. I invited the Dream Society and friends to join me for this birthday experience and a few were with me in the temple at Harbin when the evacuation message first trickled down. Lying with a friend on a beautiful deck, we watched the people disappear and realized that the winds were picking up fast. Our beautiful paradise and perfect society would not be here much longer.
The fire moved so fast that we could barely grab our items and find our people between cars and campsites. No cell reception or wifi. We regrouped in Middletown as Cobb Mountain was on fire on all sides of the crest with planes dropping fire retardant between Harbin and the town. The toxic red clouds didn’t work. With locals evacuating we found the last open road north and began to caravan to a new location to continue the scariest birthday mission of my life.
During this birthday mission, for the past few weeks and especially on Saturday we were discussing the culture and society we want to create: LoveLands and safe places to travel between for our global network of nomads and our networks of networks to support each other. All of a sudden, we were 8 resourceful people with lots of closed roads and nowhere to go — so we started calling every hotel, AirBnB and getaway within an hours drive. This is the time we need LoveLands and new society, to know where to go when displaced or under threat. We wanted sanctuary out of burning hell.
The hour drive out of Middletown felt like a trip through Mordor as the sky turned black at 5PM. We saw houses on fire as firefighters rushed to meet the rapidly growing challenge. Over 1200 firefighters were engaged on Saturday to save hundreds of homes. I can only hope they all survive to fight another day, as the fires are not yet done in this horrible year of drought.
The New Society Enblazoned in Us
When I close my eyes, I see the mountain still burning. No structure is immune to destruction. The fire has great lessons to teach me in this journey of creating new culture and society for the next generation.
The current structures created in our society will burn. Homes become ash. Our legacies are ephemeral and only as strong as our collaborative networks of care. Institutions will try to support the system and they will fail us.
Fire within us cannot be fully contained once the flame catches the wind. We are the fire and we are the wind.
So what does fire teach us in a world that seems to be ready for evacuation? Where is safe? Who do we trust? What do we want to rebuild?
All around us we see a society that no longer serves our needs. Fear breeds corruption. Refugees need new solutions yet old societies like National Geographic are sold to Fox. The voices we once trusted are gone and the chain of information is breakable. The promise of transparency in media has not yet delivered a safe society for millions of displaced people. On Saturday we had to rely on sources like Facebook and CalFire for maps on where to go next because the fires move too fast and infrastructure is too centralized and fragile when attacked on all sides.
“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” ~ Alan Watts
Fire teaches us that we have to live right now. Survival with our people is priority one in creating a healthy society. Knowing who you can trust and bonding with your community is essential to a thrivable society. Decentralized, resilient nodes in the network can help us survive when everything else is being destroyed around us.
Over the past few weeks I have been weaving new visions with my #DreamSociety allies as we work through this tough transition time. A moment of displacement and real fear made me recognize the necessity of this cooperative way of life. As my friends took a moment to reflect after getting to a safe place, we recognized key goals to accomplish together:
- Open Access, Identity and Opportunity for All
- LoveLands: Living Networks for Global Collaboration
- Activating Change Agents Across Fields, Borders, Sectors
The new society that is resilient, thrivable and able to create safe places for a rapidly-changing world needs to exist right now and it starts with our fire and ability to collaborate on a global scale to address local challenges as they happen, from fires and other natural disasters to war, displacement and atrocities against others. Data, tech and tools for change are just the beginning and our ability to thrive depends on our ability to use these tools wisely with others at pivotal times when life heats up.
Our new dream society begins with open access to information, the ability to create a basic identity that cannot be taken away by any government and the freedom to pursue learning and knowledge to grow new opportunities and societies. I believe that everyone on this planet can have open access, identity and opportunity to achieve and it starts with those of us with homes sharing our abundance with the millions who are currently displaced. There are thousands in California now facing homelessness, and millions more around the planet living in displacement camps for years at a time.
Expecting someone else to deal with the problem is not going to put out this fire. We are change agents, and it is up to us to take the action needed to survive and thrive in this new world.
LoveLands: the Living Networks
Over the past few weeks our friends have been discussing creating new networks of communities where we can travel and stay safe as we work around the world. Sanctuary and safe haven is a premium for change agents.
When the fire hit we had no back-up plan and as we searched for sanctuary we saw towns lighting up for evacuation. Where are the safe zones for travelers and how do you know who to trust?
The LoveLands are a concept in global nomadic living where a membership society of trusted people can travel between havens and sanctuaries like Harbin Hot Springs and communities around the world where we find solace and a moment to reflect. There are thousands of communities where leaders go to rest between speaking engagements or on sabbatical while writing their great works. There are retreat centers, temples, homes and communities that have excess capacity, but these centers are rarely networked in a searchable society that provides a decentralized safety net.
This weekend we wanted that safety net: the 8 of us nomads found ourselves in a caravan through the dark fire to a safe zone nearby where my friends dropped nearly $1000 to stay for a night of rest. I am grateful that my friends make it work and pulled out a birthday celebration of bread, vegetables and wine as we watched the smoke change color as the sky gave way to darkness.
As a child I would draw communities like Harbin Hot Springs as my utopian ideal for the type of place I wanted to build and live in as an adult. Now that I am 40 and have seen my dream worlds burn, I want to build the network of networks that allows us to thrive between these places, not only landing a home for all of us but also providing an easier way for us to move between communities as our expertise is needed. Right now, Lake County is going to need lots of nomads who specialize in fire cleanup and rescue, as many animals and homes are still affected and fires are not yet fully contained.
This was my first time at Harbin Hot Springs after 15 years of looking forward to this beautiful place. Now I look on these photos (none taken at Harbin out of respect for their policies) and I see the place we were sitting just before we left, the hot pools and decks. We were to the right of this photo when we got the last call to evacuate and there were ~100 people around us along with dozens of residents who called Harbin Hot Springs home. Most structures were made of wood and it looks like even the sacred spaces are now gone. I wonder what will emerge from these ashes — I hope it becomes the fuel for a new society that actively looks out for the people in the community in times of rapidly-changing winds and elemental risk.
I believe the only way we will thrive in this world is to find our people, work together and figure out how to collaborate across fields, borders and sectors to provide sanctuary and space for everyone. From refugees now scattered to the winds to those displaced in California this weekend, my heart goes out to you and I hope we can all help each other figure out how to rebuild a stronger and more resilient and decentralized support network, the Dream Society of trust where no matter what fires come, we can find our people and create again.