AN INTIMATE REFLECTION ON CALIFORNIA’S FIRES
By Ethan Chen
You always dreamed of going to Alaska, where obsidian nights glisten with stars, where neon ribbons dance, painting the sky. California’s sky was painted last week, too. Not in celestial aquas and lavenders, not in rich sapphires and emeralds, but in hues of rusted orange and aged bronze. It was the sky of Armageddon, of destruction, of the post-apocalyptic.
California cries; she pleads for care. Tears of ash blanket windshields and suspend within the air. Gluttonous, ravaging fires eat her land, leaving behind wooden skeletons and scorched rock. The smell of smoke is not reminiscent of the campfires you love — where marshmallows caramelize over flickering flames, where friends unite over song, where families pass down cherished folklore. The fumes suffocate; they numb your mind.
Even though the windows have remained shut for weeks and the doors rarely open, her tears still mysteriously sneak into the house. They collect along the windowsill; they coat the kitchen countertops, turning white marble grey.
Your room’s air purifier hums throughout the day. The sound, an ever-present whisper, tries to lull you to sleep. But your desire to escape to “dreamland” — your fantastical subconscious universe where chromatic dragons soar over jade seas — fails to happen. Instead, you, heavy-eyed, observe. You notice the paint cracks forming along your walls. From afar, they resemble bare branches and lightning streaks. Up close, the cracks form skeletal hands with reaching fingers. I imagine that these fingers reach to touch, to find another hand to hold onto.
When the orange skies turn black and the masked moon appears, the night winds blow, clearing the air momentarily. Only then do I see people leave their houses. I am one of those people, too, walking my dog each night. With a swaying coat of fur and a feathered tail, he walks this earth with ignorance, oblivious to the dangers of smoke. Refusing to return home, he lies on a patch of grass underneath the Bart tracks that now seldom roar.
Up ahead is Solano street, lined with familiar restaurants and boutique shops. The street is almost as you remember it. Families and friends, mask-off, gather around outdoor tables. Vintage string-lights twinkle like fireflies, vining up restaurant walls. Across the street, an elderly couple strolls, hand in hand.