O’Melveny, six weeks after the wildfire: Nature’s Civil War battlefield. Light rain falling and no one about, like we were the last two people on earth, navigating an apocryphal chapter of the Old Testament.
Come spring, the flowers will return in abundance. We know this before we put our first boot print in the afternoon mud, which makes it fun rather than depressing. We take comfort playing tourist in nature’s cycle of wrath and renewal.
Here, on the charcoal side of the Urban-Wildlife Interface, one realizes the only thing between the former and the latter is the forty feet of asphalt on Sesnon St. Then you remember the Santa Rosa fire of 2017, which jumped a six-lane freeway. Then you think of the Hollywood Hills, of Brentwood, of canopies of trees overhanging narrow streets, nearly shaking hands, and winds whistling up the canyons.
If we think we can live in this tension indefinitely, houses pushing in, nature clawing back, what happens when people begin squatting in the unclaimed spaces, cooking over open flames? How does that change our calculus?
Unlike nature, Shantytown, Inc. has no opposing force. Camping in the underbrush is incentivized. There’s no one at City Hall arguing for prudence, only subsidy. More service providers dispensing free stuff. The rest of us carry on arguments in the privacy of our heads.
How long will this parallel world build up along the unclaimed spaces, along the freeways and rivers and storefronts before wrath enters the picture?
What form will the rain flower take?