|In a Santa Rosa neighborhood destroyed by wildfire, residents display their sentiments. By Faith Kearns.|
The year started with some good news on the water front. We saw at least a pause in the California drought in late 2016/2017, and now we're waiting with baited breath to see what happens this winter. So far, it's not much in terms of rain or snow. And, as most folks know, what we've ended up with instead is a whole lot of out-of-season fire instead.
I really didn't set out to be a person that works primarily on disaster issues, but much of the last dozen years have been focused on two of the biggies in California: wildfire and drought, which are deeply connected. Many people that know me through the California Institute for Water Resources don't know I also spent many years at the Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley, working with some of the top fire researchers in the state and country. Along with Steve Quarles, Max Moritz, Scott Stephens, and lots of others, I co-developed many of the tools that still exist there. There's a story that to tell about how that work has and hasn't evolved since and what it means for the state at this point, but that will have to wait for another day and a more private location.
|At a community meeting in Sonoma County, residents discussed not just rebuilding, but reimagining their community. Photo by Faith Kearns.|
|A burned out area of Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen. Though burned, many of the oak trees will likely live, and grasses had already started to sprout soon after the fire. Photo by Faith Kearns.|
That tweet led to another online conversation with Jared Dahl Aldern (@JaredDahlAldern), Kayla Begay (@takimilxwe), and some other folks that resulted in the start of a reading list about Native fire practice in California. It's a great resource, best when coupled with being in active relationship with tribal communities and individuals.
|Scenes like this one from Glen Ellen, where some houses burned to nothing but foundations and fireplaces and others remained largely untouched, can lead to a sense that house burn "randomly." Photo by Faith Kearns.|
|"The love in the air is thicker than the smoke" -- a common refrain during and after the California fires. Photo by Faith Kearns.|
Finally, I continued to do quite a lot of writing at The Confluence, our water institute blog. A highlight for me was being able to follow up on my last post here, doing interviews with two of the scholars I wrote about briefly there. The first set was with anthropologist Casey Walsh who had some fantastic insights on both the nature of drinking and bathing water, as well as power dynamics around groundwater. The second set was with Melanie Yazzie, a new faculty member at UC Riverside. It was wonderful to have the chance to talk with her about the water is life movement and what she calls a "radical politics of relationality," as well as about the tensions and possibilities around tribal sovereignty today. I also loved writing about my colleague Laura Snell's work on controversial wild horse issues in northern California. What is required of scientists these days is so much more than you could ever be taught in school. There is much to be learned in all of those conversations.
By now, I've said way too much. I guess I was trying to process what happened professionally this year myself. The tone feels odd in the midst of so much hardship, but continuing to see the beauty feels important too. There is much left unsaid here that I've tried to address in some of the links above, as well as daily on Twitter and Facebook. The richness and nuance and suffering and connection and everything in between are incredible to bear witness to. So many stories that have to wait. Until then, wishing everyone some rest and rejuvenation in December.