After a Firestorm

After a Firestorm
By Linda Eskin

Flat gray rings of former trees dapple the black hills.
Angry chainsaw growls and purposeful shouting replace the stunned silence.
A charred oak sounds like a truckload of lumber when it falls.
Front loaders and roll-off bins gather out of nowhere like vultures around a carcass.

Your home was spared, or it wasn’t.
Dozens of friends lost theirs.
Whole neighborhoods are just gone.

You will rebuild, or you won’t.
You may live in a trailer on your land for years.
You’ll deal with insurance, your architect, building permits, contractors,
Or take the money and move on.

Your neighbors will stay, or they won’t.
You will cry and laugh together.
We are OK, and that’s all that matters.
It was just stuff.
But it was your stuff.
Share a take-out meal at a folding table and tell your stories.

Everyone will have a story.
Trauma hammers memories into our minds. Vivid, indelible.
Everyone will tell you their story. They will need to tell it.
You will need to tell yours, too. You will tell it a hundred times.

One day next week a friend will venture onto a familiar trail.
They will see still-smoldering stumps and the remains of animals trapped by the flames.
They will see a panoramic vista where dense Manzanita and Ceanothus once grew.
They will see an ending, and a beginning.

One day next month it will rain, just a little.
The air will smell like water on a dying campfire.
Cold, wet ashes.

Then it will be dry again.
A strong wind will blow and the air will turn gray.
Not brown like smoke. Not white like fog.
Something you have never seen before.
Fine gray ash swirled up into the air.

The holidays will come.
They will be an inconvenience. Celebrations will be simple and sincere.
Someone will put up lights out of sheer defiance.
“The fire will not ruin my holiday spirit!”
Those who can will host dinners for displaced friends.

One day this winter it will rain, a lot.
With nothing to hold the soil the mud will flow into stream beds blocked by debris.
There will be warning of mudslides and flash floods.
You will stay out of low-lying areas.

Communities will go dormant.
The annual parade, the horse club fun show, the scout troop outing.
No one will have the time or energy.
The mailing list on someone’s computer will be lost, along with their house.
Decades of history, club records, newsletters, group equipment, supplies – all erased.
Like the Manzanita and Ceanothus in the hills,
And the scorched hedge by your driveway,
Some of these will sprout again from their seemingly-dead roots.
Water them when you can – the rituals and the hedge – they may come back.

Soon the light green of new grasses will appear on the hills.
Fresh 2x4s will outline walls and roofs of new homes.

Next year, in the fall, you will see a quality of light,
You will hear a siren or a shout, feel a dry, warm breeze.
Your gut will tighten and your breath will catch in your throat.
At first you won’t know why.
The year after that when it happens, you’ll know.

A decade from now the mountains will be green,
Alive again with meadows, deer, and tall trees.
Black Halloween skeletons of oaks will stand guard over the new growth,
As if to remind the exuberant youngsters of their mortality.

Many years from now, when you are old, mention the fires,
and someone will tell you their story.

Linda Eskin is a writer in San Diego County. She normally writes about the non-violent, non-competitive Japanese martial art of Aikido. Her blog, Grab My Wrist, is about connection, mindfulness, and the pursuit of mastery. She has been affected by several major wildfires, starting with the Kitchen Creek/Laguna Fire in 1970, and has assisted in large animal rescue operations.  You can read Linda’s story about the 2003 Cedar Fire here.

Fridays are for Writing

Fridays are for Writing

By Linda Eskin

Fridays are for writing!
Lay in snacks and coffee.
Clear the decks.
Lock the office door.
None shall pass!

Fridays are for writing.
But the cats are meowing,
And mustn’t starve.
Feed the cats.

Fridays are for writing.
But there’s that thing tonight,
And one mustn’t go naked.
Real quick, before you begin,
Start the laundry.

Fridays are only for writing, damn it.
But it’s hot as blazes,
And the yard is withering.
The trees mustn’t die.
Start the sprinklers.

Are you through yet?
Top off your cold coffee.
Close. The. Damned. Door.
Take a breath.
Fridays are for writing.

Mailboxes Versus Firestorms

Mailboxes Versus Firestorms
By Linda Eskin

After the flames are out,
You can go back and see.

Let yourself breathe again.
There’s no hurry now.

Your home may be standing
Or you may be standing in ashes.
Either way, it’s over.

If your home is gone,
If your neighborhood is gone,
If your mailbox is gone,
You have a job to do.

Go get a new mailbox,
And a sack of posthole cement.
Install it by the road,
Where your flowers were.

Do this first.

You’ll need your mail.
So much mail.
Insurance papers, government papers,
Official papers, important papers.

No mailbox, no mail delivery.
So put up a mailbox.

This is your stake in the ground.
I exist.
This is my place.
I will go on.

If you are able,
Get an extra one.
Put it up, too,
for your neighbor.

I’ve started a new weekly habit – Fridays are for writing. I was going to jot down a few notes tonight, to be ready to dive into my planned work for the morning: sharing my experience of what to expect in the weeks and months following a firestorm. Advice for my friends and others affected by the North Bay fires in Northern California. Instead, this tumbled out. It’s serious advice, actually, based on the experiences of many friends after the Cedar Fire in 2003. Please feel free to share.

How Is It Already August? (or, On Turning 55)

Last Tuesday we flipped the dojo calendar to the new month, and I or someone said something to the effect of “How is it already August?” That line has been rattling around in my brain for a week, gathering energy and ideas. Today is my 55th birthday.  Yesterday morning I woke up to all these random lines coalescing into a country/rock song, of all things. So I wrote it down. It doesn’t have much of a tune yet, except bits in my head. Maybe I’ll write it down one of these days. On reading it, it seems a bit depressing. But it’s more an urgent call to action. Hurry! There’s no time to waste.


How Is It Already August?
(or, On Turning 55)

By Linda Eskin

The calendar up on the kitchen wall
Shows it’s time to turn another page.

We wonder how the time can seem to crawl
Yet suddenly we reach a certain age!


I started the year
With big visions and goals.
And now those ideas all seem
Shot full of holes.

Months ahead seemed to be
Limitless and wide open.
Filled with potential,
As though I’d just woken.

We’d go camping and swimming,
Hang out with our friends.
Every week we’d go hiking.
The fun never ends!

But whatever happened to April and June?
We haven’t see rainfall in many a moon.
Solstice is past and the nights’ getting longer.
And I’d hardly noticed the heat getting stronger.

How is it already August?


I thought that by now
I’d be farther along.
I thought I’d be smarter,
I thought I’d be strong.

Meant to go for a hike,
Meant to go the beach.
And writing my books
Always seems out of reach.

Trading hours for money
Things get in the way.
If I want to get moving
Guess I’d best start today!

Good times in life don’t stand still ’til were ready
And while we’re distracted time’s progress is steady
At the beginning the year seemed so long.
I was just getting started, now it’s more than half gone.

And how is it August already?


I breathe in and it’s March
Let it out, it’s July
The months disappear
In the blink of an eye

The days fly by quickly
Like miles on a long drive;
We’re at 221
Out of 365.


We’re all getting old,
Living under the gun.
Now’s the time to be bold,
And start getting things done

Soon we’ll see pumpkins,
Then turkeys and elves.
But when the ball finally drops
We’re alone with our selves.

Whatever happened to the rest of the year?
Can you believe that we’re already here?
The high sun is bright and the hot days are long
But I’ve hardly found time just to write down this song

How is it already August?


The calendar up on the kitchen wall
Shows it’s time to turn another page.

Copyright © 2017, Linda Eskin. Please share freely by linking to this post. All other uses by written permission only.

Had enough? Join a dojo.

Find an Aikido dojo near you.

Have you finally had enough?

Do you need a break from the constant stream of contentious, terrifying news?
A refuge from the usual win/lose, zero-sum, us-versus-them thinking?

There’s a place to practice peaceful resolution of conflict,
to learn to keep your center while opening your heart.

A place to challenge your body, your mind, and your limiting beliefs,
to look inside, and see yourself in a whole new way.

A martial art – an embodied practice – where we train to evolve beyond fighting.
Beyond fighting each other.
Beyond fighting our circumstances.
Beyond fighting ourselves.

The inclusive, compassionate, and supportive community
of Aikido practitioners around the world
is waiting to welcome you.

Find an Aikido dojo near you today.

Please share this post or image freely, without modification/cropping. You may use it to promote your dojo or Aikido programs. This is entirely my own work, and I retain copyright.

Solstice Haiku for Mark Harrington

I was recently chatting with my one of my Aikido buddies on the other side of the country, Mark Harrington. We’ve been checking in from time to time as we both progress through our respective ranks in different organizations. Mark is a bit ahead of me. Anyway, we got to talking about holiday gift giving (or not). If I recall correctly, I promised him a solstice haiku. So here it is, on the first day of Winter. Enjoy.

“Hey! How’s it going?”
We call across the distance.
Friends on the same path.

Late at Night

I hope my neighbors are in their beds, dreaming their dreams, late at night.
I hope they are sound sleepers, sawing logs, not bothered by much.
I hope they are not nosy; not peering from their windows with the lights out.

It’s bad enough I feed the donkeys after class, and sometimes after dinner.
The braying at 10:30 could be trying if my neighbors were awake.
The clatter of cat food into dishes, and splashing of water into large bowls,
Might not be too bad. At least the kitties are well enough behaved.

I hope my neighbors are not fearful.

They would surely wonder what that crazy Eskin lady is doing now,
out there in the dark, swinging and swirling a rake handle overhead
while the donkeys munch their hay.

“Has she at last gone completely mad?”

How could they know that practicing the 20 jo suburi in the stillness
is the perfect way to settle down before settling into bed?

If they do see, I hope my neighbors don’t worry.

“Why on earth is she lying on the driveway, on her back, at 2 a.m.?”
Maybe they haven’t seen the observatory in the yard.
Maybe they didn’t read the news about the meteor shower.

“And why is that rake handle lying across across her chest?”
Perhaps they haven’t noticed the raccoons,
Who’ve come to eat the cat food.


Everything we do is training,
Like if we grouse about it raining,
We learn the habit of complaining.
Practice gratitude, instead.

We build our habits brick by brick,
That make us healthier, or sick.
Our actions cause these things to stick.
What we do, we will become.

We tell our passions just to hush.
We hurry things, and learn to rush.
We worry our spirits into mush
When we could chill instead.

Constant practice is our call.
Not “practice” as in basketball,
A full-time thing, including all;
The way we live our lives.

There’s not a separate time or space,
It’s every hour, and every place,
There is no finish, it’s not a race,
The practice is the goal.

Practice settling, opening, breathing,
Living, growing, even grieving.
These threads form the cloth we’re weaving
Into who we really are.

Feel into the body’s system
It has a certain ancient wisdom
We might discover, if we listen
Centered, grounded love.

[I’m not quite happy with this, but as I’ve hit the deadline I set for getting started on another thing today I’m calling it good for the moment and sharing it. I may edit it later.]


From today’s classes, a bounty:
Blends, techniques, feedback, feelings.
Let it come to you. Relax. Center.
Keep your own alignment and things will work out.

Like armfuls of fresh vegetables from a friend’s garden.
I try to carry them all safely home,
Without dropping any between here and there.
A few escape my grasp and roll away.

But the others, the gifts I do hold onto,
These cool, smooth, deeply-colored orbs,
coaxed to life from earth, water, and air…
Each is a delicious treasure.