Just South of Ventura by Sara Frykenberg

For those of us living in Southern California, it has been a tense week to say the least: flames ravaging up and down the coast, homes lost, thousands displaced, freeway and school closures, smoke thick in the air, and ash raining from the sky.

And the fires are still raging. 

Whether or not one is directly impacted by the wildfires here in Ventura and Los Angeles County, you can’t walk through the grocery store, turn on the radio, or get a cup of coffee without engaging the fear and concern, or hearing about the devastation left behind. We are sharing a trauma, howbeit differently, and with different levels of need.

I have been lucky during the fires.  I live just south of Ventura. My work is on the Getty side of the 405: it was threatened, but not in flames.  I spent the week checking in with family and friends, offering my home, and breathing the toxic air. I also made dinner, picked my brother up from the airport, attended a baby shower, and graded papers. … This is a strange juxtaposition, and like many Californians, I have had a hard time processing what’s going on.

On Sunday afternoon, surrounded by the unnatural darkness of an ash filled sky while traveling down the 101 freeway, I wrote the following. This is my effort to make sense.  And I offer it to you all here, in case this helps you make sense too. 

Just South of Ventura:

The Earth’s sun covered in wildfire smoke turns a kryptonian red, and I put my glasses back on- the opposite of Superman- my disguise complete with tortoise shell glasses.
I’m grading papers, exams, journals. A school stands empty across the pass from a field of flame.
What is my superpower again? It might not make a difference.

If I were filming a movie about the apocalypse, I would shoot today- no need for special effects. The sky is brown, and the stale winter yellow dotted with dark green that usually covers the California coastline is thinly powdered with grey. That is, unless it is black. The charcoal left behind. Short little cactus bushes, now withered, green weeping into dead brown, stubbornly cling to life- like our heroes, or whoever’s starring in this film. Human survival belying the surrounding devastation. (Just like in real life.)

“This is the new normal,” they say. In other words: get used to it. But isn’t it odd that we feel our planet scream in the inaccessibility of the mundane? Or in its midst? I can’t get to work today- or all week. I cancelled my finals. I put my finals online. I have to pick up my daughter from grandma’s house, and everyone else whose driving is wearing a breathing mask. Maybe I should pick up a breathing mask? But the store is out of them- and here I have spent all of this time driving and walking around outside with no mask. Grandma was supposed to go out, but the party was canceled because the host’s house burnt down. Firefighters pull a Christmas tree from a burning home. I strap my daughter into the car seat while ash is falling from the sky.

It’s three pm; and I know I am safe, though I’m driving into the black-brown again.

I sit at my desk, safe in my home. We moved out of Ventura last year. I adjust my glasses. I know a little too much about religion not to wonder if some people are stirred by the fires in the City of Angels. In fact, I don’t really wonder- I know this is true. But prophesy is an interesting excuse for irresponsibility. A hope for a second coming, a sad reason to hasten the end of the world.

I say to myself, coming home from work, “in the movies, this is when Superman comes.” But Superman didn’t save Krypton. Trying not to stare into our planet’s red sun, I think to myself: maybe we’ll be like Krypton one day.

Superpowers are supposed to matter. And I still have my glasses on, so I sit down and write this page. What we do, after all, is supposed to matter.

And fire can burn it all away.

Thomas Fire

A friend, and near neighbor to our old apartment in Ventura, took this photo last Week from his street corner.


Sunday morning. Smoke in the air in San Luis Obispo.


The 101 Freeway, just north of Ventura.


Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

Categories: Climate Change, General, In the News, Nature, trauma

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Born and bred in California, I feel overwhelmingly sad. At the same time, I witnessed overbuilding, building in areas that should have been left wild, and the strains put on existing water sources. And now global warming. I wonder if California is a lost cause. I want to cry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol, I hear your lament; but where there is life, it cannot be a lost cause. We can definitely cry together, though, for all that we are doing to our earth, and also continue to work to do better and be with each other through it all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you Carol and Xochitl,
        I agree with you, Xochitl. I cannot see California as a lost cause; but not because I am particularly optimistic about what is happening and will continue to happen to our world because of climate change– more because, this is my home, and where my family is (mostly), and we are still here. My childhood in conservative, evangelicalism taught me that the Earth was a lost cause. So, holding onto, as you say Xochitl, the life already here/ still here is part of my own choice to live outside of the abusive worldview that this teaching was for me.
        I love California; and I LOVE Los Angeles.

        But yes to tears. I also nearly burst into tears yesterday driving past a “Stay Strong Ventura” sign yesterday– hand made, on the road median, pink with hearts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I could give you one of my masks, Sara. I bought a “3 pack” when British Columbia was burning and the smoke from the fires a thousand kms away blanketed us. I hope you’ll find one soon, for yourself and your family.
    My thoughts are with the people of California. I hope this ordeal is soon past, and pray for the courage and wisdom needed for the future.


    • Thank you Barbara.
      The air quality is fluctuating here; and stores do have masks now, and water– which was the other thing stores were selling out of– but thank you for the care this well wish represents.
      The narrative is less linear, or a conclusion of ‘where I’m at now;’ and more of a loose narrative of many of my experiences over the past week and a half.

      What your post makes me think of though, is that (like you) we do need to have these kinds of things on hand, sadly. My friends and I have been discussing disaster preparedness kits for a long time– we even talked (jokingly, and not jokingly) about giving elements of these kits for Christmas presents. …

      Thank you for thoughts and prayers for California.


  3. Wow, good post! I live in Long Beach, an hour or more down the freeway from Ventura. No fires here. But yesterday, when I drove up one of our main north-south streets, I could look north and see the mountains on the north side of L.A. Shrouded in brown smoke. I have friends who are evacuated.

    I have long thought a major part of California’s various problems is indeed overdevelopment. Developers are building huge houses in the wilderness where only wild animals used to live. At the same time, we have more homeless people than ever before. The TV news is saying that at least one of the fires was started by illegal cooking in a homeless encampment under one of the 405 overpasses. We no longer live in the Golden State. It’s the ash-colored state now.

    Sara, take really good care of yourself.


    • Indeed, definitely ash black-brown. Which is, for lack of a better word, awesome (in the fear, daunting, overwhelming, impressive, stunning, staggering sense).

      You take care as well Barbara.


  4. My friend in Brea keeps me posted about the fires. As an English guy, I have never, ever seen anything like this. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.


  5. Thank you, Sara, for putting to words what feels unspeakable – what is so overwhelming. I can imagine it is a struggle to put such devastation to words, especially when you are still in its midst, and so vulnerable too. So I thank you and my heart is with you.


  6. “But isn’t it odd that we feel our planet scream in the inaccessibility of the mundane? ”

    Get used to it? The Earth is weeping and we are supposed to get used to it? What happens to her happens to us – how can we continue to separate the two?

    This horrific story in words and images is heartrending – heartbreaking – and yes, I am ENRAGED that we continue to ignore Her screams…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Sara. I’m from Ventura County, so this fire has really hit me hard, even though I don’t live there anymore. I’ve lived in Maine for the past 23 years, but I still have family in Ventura County. I’ve been horrified and heartsick by the destruction the fire, and other fires, have caused, and I agree that overdevelopment has played a part in the devastation.


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