Fire ecology is the scientific discipline of fire’s role and effect in the environment and specific ecosystems. In habitats like prairies, chaparral, and coniferous areas, wildfires are essential to vitality and renewal. Maybe Mother Nature’s onto something…
I was first exposed to this concept as a child growing up in Southern California, where we frequently witnessed the mountains behind our house ablaze, casting thick black smoke into the sky. In college, I received a call during film studies from my mother asking, “The fire’s over the ridge so I’m standing in your room right now, what would you like to me save?” And just a few years ago, my father and I watched on the news as another fire in Santa Barbara tore through my childhood friend’s home, a house they’d built on an empty lot. They’d sold the house and moved away long ago, but my dad called them on the phone. They were watching the news, too. That beautiful house was going to return to an empty lot.
In high school, I went on trail rides through stretches of freshly scorn earth in the Sespe Wilderness. Absolutely everything had been reduced to carbon, or torched and covered in ashes and soot. It was crazy to see sections of land completely black. The amazing part is the fire, and the extensive damage resulting from it, is a major key in the rebirthing process for the land to return nutrients and minerals to the soil. The current yield wasn’t worth it, so burning it all down and starting over from scratch is natural part of the ecological lifecycle.
Yesterday was my own semi-annual purge by fire, where I went through my all my boxes of bills, writings, and “random stuff” to organize, record, and get rid of whatever I’m not in an immediate need of. Some people are absolutely terrified at the idea of hours worth of cleaning up your disheveled history of thoughts, but I couldn’t have imagined a better way to figuratively “start with a clean slate” then by purging the useless tokens I’ve collected over the past year. The result was two bags of clothing I’m ready to donate, close to 15 pounds of paper in the recycling (completely making that weight up), and a few of the more special items made a more ceremonial departure in the fires of the furnace.
These types of revitalizing extirpation have become more common for me as I continue to pick up my life and move somewhere else in a smaller and smaller vehicles. Perhaps more importantly, these purges have become a valuable tool in allowing me to reconnect with the cold irons of my creative past. I took the time to read through the scribbled notes about plot lines and jokes. I organized the essays and research materials into their own labeled folders, and I once again thumbed through the photographs, drawings, and paintings in the portfolios I’ve managed to hold onto over the years. Combing through the pages of creative ideas, I couldn’t help but become excited again about all these projects I’d brainstormed up long ago. Short stories. Films. Multimedia artwork. Card Games. Photo series. I’m telling you, there’s some good shit in here!
There’s also some bad stuff in there. A lot of bad stuff, in fact. Starting fresh is harder than it sounds, especially when you’re going boxes you’ve packed and unpacked twice over the past year. The pictures. The love notes. The cards and ornaments. I tucked them all into a wooden box. I can’t get rid of these things yet. I don’t want to. But I know I can’t keep them around. It’s the same with this box of rejection letters I received from law schools. I tucked those, and the copious amounts of paper from the unemployment saga, away in a folder marked, Fuel for the Fire.
But for most of the items in these boxes, I struggle to figure out why I’ve held onto these things for so long? You obviously keep the portfolio of work, but there’s also a plethora of useless trinkets, receipts, ticket stubs, that fill in the cracks around my art. I’ve held onto these pieces of my history because, presumably, I hope someday in the distant future I’ll go through the box, see a placard with my name on it, and be immediately transported back to that place, reliving the best days of my life. And while that’s completely true about many personal totems I’ve collected, I have absolutely no idea what party this crinkled up purple, paper wristband came from. This bead necklace? It’s just garbage now. It’s gotta go.
It’s important for me to keep in mind that just because I’m throwing out that crinkly wristband, it doesn’t mean the party didn’t happen. Throwing away this birthday card doesn’t mean I didn’t have a birthday that year. In fact, the biggest and most valuable moments in our life don’t leave us with a series of collectible trinkets, they leave our entire perspectives changed forever. It’s about everything that happened around the item that’s worth remembering, not the receipt. So I thanked the notes for what they were, then like the others, tossed them into the fire.
Truthfully, not all is lost either, we do live in a digital age after all. For the notes, I used the app CamScan on my iPhone and took .pdf images of everything before I recycled them (or burned them). Now I’ll be able to go back through the documents, rename them, organize them, and then start creating a list of actions to promote progress or implement them. These are the seeds for the next generation of projects and ideas, rising from the ashes.
Everybody has their own methods when it comes to resetting your system. Mine involves tons of organizing and a little fire. My personal fire ecology. Whatever your recalibration techniques are, it’s important to embrace them as a necessary part of the process. There’s nothing good or bad about how you choose to narrow down your footprint, it just is what it is. If you come out on the other side motivated, inspired, and just a little bit more organized, who can say your process doesn’t work?
Just don’t hurt anybody with actual fire, okay? Thanks.
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