Skyline, Spring - 2001

By Diane Pendola

Trail By Fire Spring

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The spring equinox is nearly here and with it, as I promised, the next issue of Skyline EARTHLINES. As I write this, exactly one and a half years have passed since the “Pendola Fire” burned through 13,000 acres in the Tahoe National Forest. 200 of those acres were intimately connected to the root zone I call “Home”.

It began on October 16, 1999. I write this on March 16, 2001. The fire has shaped my daily activity for 18 months. It has informed both my inner world and my outer life. It has changed my inner landscape as surely as it has changed the outer landscape around us. In this issue of EARTHLINES I would like to invite you into my inner landscape, into my own personal journey through fire. I hope that my original intentions for this journal,

will be realized through the intimacy of this sharing. I’ve selected a series of journal entries that I hope will speak from within my experience to reach beyond to universal themes that touch us all. But I will let you be the judges of my success.



I am the forest. The fire has burned through me. Has burned me to the bone. My green flesh, my leaves, my plants, my flowers, my trees are gone. I turn my scorched back to the rain and rain rives me with pellets, rivers me with her unimpeded streaming down my naked slopes. I yield no food for the bear, no cover for the fox, no bed for the deer. All is vulnerable now. All is exposed. I am exposed. I am powerless beneath the fire’s power. I surrender everything to you. I let go. You lay me bare. I am earth and ash. I am raw possibility.


(Speaking to the forest) I don’t want to leave you. I walk and by walking I bear witness to you, to myself, to the love I feel, to the love you have embodied for me. I walk within your burned slopes, ash beneath my feet, as the ground is slowly being covered now by the dry needles falling from dying firs, pines, cedars. They are still standing, but dying as they stand. Dying as I walk among them, absolutely powerless to stop the death. So I walk. I sit. I pray. I write. I extend myself to you. I extend my presence. My tears rise up in waves and in waves roll back just as suddenly from where they came. I am at a funeral. Loss and laughter all mixed up together in this moment by moment stripping of the heart. Wondering how life is going to change. Knowing that it will.

I hope you can receive the way I can honor you- walking every bit of you- remembering how you were, seeing you as you now are, imagining the brokenness of my heart once you are gone. Now, I still have your trees, their long trunks blackened, foliage shriveled and brown. But they still throw their long shadows over the hillside, shading the earth and framing the light. I can still lay my hand upon them, feeling their solidity beneath my palm, tracing the course bark with the tips of my fingers. But now the bark is soft, ashen, powdery beneath my hand.

I just want to be with you. We do not have much time left together- not like this. Soon the loggers will be here and you will all be gone.


The chainsaws have started. Today I will walk with the forester ahead of the fallers marking “Leave” trees with an orange “L” on their trunks. We will look into their crowns to see if there is any green, any possibility of survival. Less paint is needed to mark these trees that stay… there are so few…

Marilyn (my sister) tells me I am brave, brave to go out and mark the trees and not to just turn it all over to someone else. Is it brave to want to be with your loved one until the last dying breath? I do not have children. This forest is my child. This is where I have planted my hopes for the future. This is the gift I had to offer to the seventh generation. I had hoped to leave this forest on its way to being old growth again.

These trees were living, breathing beings who comforted me in my sorrow. They have been teachers, confidants, friends. They have been the face and voice of God to me. They have been carriers of the spirit, finding pathways to my heart that only they have opened. They are part of my body and with them part of myself is being felled by fire, by chainsaw, by this mysterious movement called change, by this power called impermanence, by this twist in the heart called suffering.


A task has been set before me. It is not a task I chose. It has chosen me. Now my choice is in my response. Now my choice is to sit, facing the direction of the chainsaws, watching the face of the hillside change with every falling tree. My choice is to be ears and eyes. My choice is to let my heart break in the hope that a more profound voice might rise from the void that opens between the broken pieces. My choice is to become forest. Not any forest but this forest, part of the Tahoe National Forest of the Sierra –Nevada mountain range; elevation 2600-3200 feet. Forest of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. Forest where my father and my grandfather set up sawmills, felled the big trees, turning them into planks for the great flumes that used to flow with water through these hills. Not any forest, but this forest that has been the bread and butter of my family; that has been the eucharistic table that has nourished my fledgling soul. This forest that received my great grandmother from Italy, my Irish grandmother from San Francisco. This forest that saw the miners of ’49 invade, dredging her waterways for gold, eroding to the fleshless bone her hillsides with their hydraulics and their greed. This forest that still holds the memory of the native people who lived here for hundreds of years, that holds the flint of their arrowheads in the meadow, that holds the basins where they ground their acorn in the wide rocks, that holds their presence in the deep woods and in the flight of hawks for whom this is home.

The task before me is to be a voice for this forest. Now devastated by wild-fire. Now bearing the intrusion of loggers and skidders and bulldozers and trucks and men and machines. I don’t know how. Except to be faithful to this daily listening. To receive each thundering fall of a severed pine into the ground of my own heart. To experience the shaking of this earth I share with them as my earth. Their falling as my falling. Their dying as my dying. To come into the consciousness that from this point on we either die or rise together.


On the neighbor’s property, above our irrigation line, they are falling timber. Green timber. Green trees that would live through this fire; that would speak for 100 years the memory of this fire; that would generate seed trees for years to come. Hate rises in me. And I ask for it to be removed from me. I know hatred never ceases through hatred. I know that curse has never brought new life to the land or to the heart. I am about learning to choose life, to make peace in my heart with my neighbors, not enemies.

Enemies of the heart- it starts here in the heart- in conversations, in germinating bad feelings, in judging, in the internal landscape of thought and attitude. This is always in the realm of my choice: to love and not to hate; to bless and not to curse; to remember my own ignorance, my own poor judgments, my own mistakes, my own betrayals… and forgive my neighbors and myself. Forgive them and forgive those who are close to me who are like them. And surrender us all into a Higher Knowing, into a Holy Spirit whose will is to Life.

Perhaps anger seethes towards my neighbors because I have blocked its flow toward the fire itself; towards myself for not being here; towards spirit for allowing this devastation to happen. So perhaps it is displaced anger towards my neighbors. Displaced judgment.

My senses are on overload from the dissonant, mechanical sounds, foreign to the forest yet everywhere now. When a tree falls, the earth reverberates. Chain saws wound tight and whining compete with each other from ridge to ridge as to who will topple the next blackened tree. I can hear the skidders, the great clawed tractors, the bulldozers, the logging trucks lumbering up the slick road.

How did this happen? It is the question that repeats over and over in my mind. How is it that this place I’ve dreamed of preserving as a sanctuary is now blackened by fire? The trees I have prayed over and fought for are being felled one at a time by the very loggers I have cursed and hated? The earth is being torn and flayed and scarred. I have invited them here. I will financially benefit. Yet I would never have chosen this. It has chosen me and I pray I am making the right choices in response.


Now the sound of helicopters joins the cacophonous discord of saws and machines as logging operations begin on the national forest land that borders us. The constant whirring of the choppers begins early in the morning and lasts late into the afternoon as they lift logs from the steep canyons and deliver them to the loading decks.

I feel like I am in a war and I unite myself to the bewilderment of people in a warzone, their forests devastated by fire, their gardens and fields destroyed by bombs; their footpaths sabotaged with land mines. What must the Vietnamese people have felt when their land was blistered by napalm? Or the Kuwaiti people, to see their desert sky turned into a blackened night without dawn from the smoke of ignited oil fields? What about the hate that grows in the hearts of people torn from their homes, in the hearts of those who have witnessed their loved ones murdered, tortured, raped? It occurs to me I don’t know what hate is. But, I do know, it is here, inside of me.


They are on the hillside across the creek now. I can stand on the porch of the house and watch the trees fall. Today I feel sick to my stomach. I feel the chain saws in my spine, firing off the nerves in my neck and shoulders. My body is on chronic alert. I’m agitated, short tempered with Teresa. I can’t seem to focus on anything but the hillside, waiting for the next tree to fall, as if my witnessing is critical to the event. As if my listening and watching can memorialize each and every stately green life, brown now by fire, falling now beneath the loggers blade. As if my body taking the impact of every reverberating crash upon the earth can break open my heart that feels so dull and dead.

“So that we may see with our eyes
and hear with our ears
and feel with our hearts
and turn and be healed.”

As if this vigil participates somehow in the healing,
“keep watch with me and wait”.

This is the only thing I can do right now. Watch the forest being felled before my eyes. Listen to the crashing of their bodies to the ground. Feel in my heart the tearing away of life from the earth and bring the memory into my mind, that I might be a voice, a vessel of remembering.


“Circle of Pines” is gone, the grove of trees where I heard the words “forsake all egoistic pursuits and follow me” so many years ago. I had marked the one Big Pine with an “L” but the faller had taken it upon himself to decide that she would not survive. After confronting him I left and once out of his sight, I leaned against a big pine and cried. “What do you want from me, you pines that remain? You pines that are gone? What do you want from me, you pines that are gone? You pines that remain?

(Pines that are gone, speak) We want your memory. We want your intelligence. We want your risk-taking, your endurance, your patience, your will, your humanness. We want your voice. We want your broken heart so we can plant the seed of a new vision there; a new relationship between human and non-human, between human and forest. We want you to write and teach and preach in our memory. We want you to re-member us in the re-planting of the forest but also in the re-planting of minds and hearts. We want you to be a minister of the earth community. We want you to remember us in the breaking of the bread. We want you to remember us in the sharing of the cup. We want you to touch the fundamental unity of all life, of our life with yours. We want you to be our memory, our minister, our priest, our poet, our human voice.

(Pines that remain, speak) We want to live long and prosper. We want to support you and love you and carry your memory. We want to be your ministers, teachers, guides. We want to teach you our language. We want to give you our spirit. We want to share with you our soul. We want to shelter you when you die and receive your body into our roots so that you can become one with us. We want to nurture in you this new consciousness that is dawning in you and in humanity, but which is fragile and easily crushed by the dominant mentality of your culture. We want to renew ourselves with our seeds and renew you with the seeds of our consciousness rooted in you. We want to live.


I am feeling so much lighter today. There has been a swelling of emotion in me akin to joy, definitely gratitude. It is so beautiful right now! Looking south across the meadow and down toward the lake the oaks are greening. So many of the oaks are alive! The apple and cherry and plum trees are blooming. Dogwoods are blossoming where the fire moved through! It is unbelievable that they survived! The poppies are out and the purple iris, and soon the roses will be proliferating everywhere. There was a beautiful little singer in the willow tree this afternoon. It’s song lit up my heart. Today was just a gorgeous day. The grass is so green, everywhere, and in the upper pasture it is tall and lush where Teresa planted last fall.

The sun will be sinking soon over the clear-cut hillside, but that is all in shadow under the brightness of the sun. Today new life is stronger in me than loss and death. That we have all of this beauty still standing all around us and brimming with new vitality and aliveness is blessing, gift, miracle. That we still have our home is wondrous.


The fire has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me more compassionate, less arrogant. It has opened me. There is more room in me for the loggers as well as the forest; more space for differing points of view; more tolerance of the “relative truth”; more surrender to the “bigger Truth” which is neither my possession nor within my comprehension but none-the-less calls me to speak on its behalf with what light and love and humility I have.

The fire has recommitted me to the health and vitality of this land. It has recommitted me to the health and vitality of this forest. It has recommitted me to the work of my hands and my heart. And the fire has reawakened me to the call from within to “ministry”… and I pause here to consider what “ministry” means. To me it means facilitating for others a conscious awareness of the sacred at the very center of life and of every living creature. It means to employ my skills in conscious service to the sacred web of life as an enabling leader- enabling awareness of our fundamental unity with all of life… pausing again I think of Jesus. And I think how Jesus did and does facilitate this awareness of the sacred in the human. But it has been the indigenous peoples who have opened the doorways to the sacred in the other-than-human.

Perhaps I ask too much of Jesus to be the door way to the entire reality of the divine. Maybe it is enough that He opens us as human beings to our own divinity and, once through that door, other entries into the sacred become accessible. Maybe that is what makes me unique as a Christian. It’s the place I started from. It was the personal, loving door that opened me to divine reality, which is to be infinitely explored but never owned. This gives me a sense of peace, freedom, permission.

I would like to share this sense of peace, freedom and permission to spiritually explore, with others… the permission to celebrate Christ without the need to make him smaller than he is in order to fit our comfort or our fear. To allow him to be a door that opens us to infinite possibility- a beginning, a place to start from, a presence on the journey; an open invitation to move constantly and daily from fear into love without knowing in advance how it all will end.


Morning. Before I open my eyes I remember: Fire! We had a fire. Everything has changed. I turn over, not opening my eyes. I go back to sleep pulling the covers close to my face, adjusting the pillow under my neck.

I dream of various things. But no matter what the image they all seem to speak of fire, of change, of barrenness.

I open my eyes. The memory of my nervous system still expects green, expects the lush texture of bluish fir against the yellow highlights of incense cedar, expects the glint of light on the long needles of pine, expects the green canopy of oak leaves in May. So every morning my system is shocked into wakefulness, as out this window to the west I see the leafless silhouettes of blackened oaks, their top branches left snapped and jagged by the falling pines logged in the fall.

And then, beyond, are the red bare slopes, only standing dead trees to break the empty landscape. And soon even they will be gone: the massive oaks and mother madrones, their great trunks severed to leave only a breadth of memory.

I wake with what seems a feeble attempt at prayer. “Jesus, what do you want from me? What do you want from this?”

Sometimes, in my half sleep, before the desolate images strike my eyes, I dream I am one with the forest. I dream the life force, that has been taken down to the bare earth by fire, is moving below the surface. The green that is stirring the ground, carpeting patches with flowers, with bracken, with black berries and poison oak; the sprouts that are emerging at the bases of the dead oak and madrone, all of this energy emerging into life is in me. It is stirring in me. It is the same energy. It is differentiated as it manifests in forest, as it manifests in me. But before that, it is undifferentiated. Before waking and having to go about my day believing what I do to be important, prior to that, is this energy. This energy, primal, moving everywhere, deathless. It is not in need of my doing. But, here am I, greening from the inside, urgent to flower with the multi-petalled fragrance of love and of service.


In my heart this morning there are rivers and wide pools where waters are deep and quiet. In my mind there is the spaciousness that gives birth to stars. In my body runs the rugged spine of the mountain ranges. The whole of the Sierra-Nevada blooms out of my bones. I inquire of my soul “who is Jesus” and the whole created world takes shape in my hands and my feet. The modern sensibility stumbles at the confession of belief in the resurrection of the body, but this morning my pelvic floor is visited by the rush of volcanic fire that creates new earth from the germinal seed of the fiery heavens.

I go inside myself and I find all for which I search thriving within my own flesh and bone. My flesh, the green grass and flowering wildness of meadows and forest. My bones, the rocky coast lines and spare dry deserts. Certainly this body will die, to return to earth and sky. But this morning I smile at death, as a small flower, on a craggy granite shelf, smiles at the withdrawing grasp of winter and turns towards the living sun.


Gratitude shimmers across my inner landscape like the light of dawn after a night of washing rain. As naturally as night ending and the beginning of a new day, the presence of an inner radiance reaches into the valleys and hollows of my charred body and forlorn spirit. Energy had withdrawn itself from me, pulled back from the green fuse of life into some hidden and remote core, far from my sensible apprehension. Now it is flaring forth, infusing countless roots with the greening power of manifest life.

This gentle epiphany unfurls me as surely as fern uncurls itself from its resting within the energies of the forest floor. Organic in all of my body parts I am united with my greening kin across the continent and across the globe. I feel the energies rise in me again, without which I am nothing. In whom I am everything. And every good thing becomes possible to me. This gracious presence, so long distant and beyond my grasping reach, now comes close. I feel gathered up, as upon a wave, and carried forward into a future totally gratuitous- sheer gift.

I feel this Sea of Spirit swelling within me, and all around me, carrying me into new life and new forms of life. I can only know these forms in my arriving but sense them, in my coming and becoming. They are already intuitively present in my own waters, my own undulating movement, my already union with this mother sea. This motion mothers me towards an awareness that is yet beyond me but already within me as germinal and cosmic.


(The Forest speaks) Listen. There is a sound moving through everything. A hum. A music. The world sings. The earth, trees, insects, birds, leaves, wind, breeze. The world sings. And the heart, unencumbered, joins naturally, rises with the wind and the lifting of bird’s wings and becomes one with the Great Song spilling from every cell and atom, every stream and mountain. It is true. Nothing dies. The music changes. Moves. Without movement there is no music, no melody, no song. Give yourself to the song. Ecstasy is the potential of every cell in your body, waiting to be struck to vibration by your opening to sound, to movement, to change. Do not clamp down on life, on ideas of good and bad, right and wrong. Open the clenched jaw, the clenched fist, the clenched heart. Let the song stir your soul into its own ecstatic vibration, free as the wind, the air, the breath upon which it rides and finds release and homecoming.

Come here and listen to me. You will hear no mourning, only one great celebratory symphony in which the keys of sadness and loss are taken up exquisitely into the whole.

See the whole! Take on the mind of Christ. Be great!


It seems appropriate to end this journal by sharing the prayer our Skyline community created to honor the planting of 62,000 baby fir, pine and redwood trees that are now taking root across our 200 acres of land. Several of us gathered to ritually create a medicine wheel, a web of life. We planted eight Sierra Redwood trees in a circle, a tree for each of the primary directions, and a tree for each of the cardinal directions. We asked the Spirit of the earth and the heavens, of the animals and the plants, of the rocks and of the people, to bless the trees and the hearts and hands of those who plant them. We asked the powers of soil, air, water and sun to nurture the new seedlings and to bring them into the realization of the great potential within them. We asked that the potential within ourselves also be brought to fruition and that we be given the courage to bring forth the life and the vision that is within each of us to be realized.

So for our forest and for all forests, for the healing of our body the earth, in the spirit of Spring and of Resurrection, we offer this prayer:

Tree Planting, Skyline, March 10, 2001

We Pray
This land be made whole again
This forest grow strong again
These trees grow tall again.
We pray
That what we do today strengthens
the sacred web of life.
We pray
That the knot we tie today
in this place with these hands
will bind us to all generations to come.
We pray
That through our actions today
we make of this place a sanctuary
for all the creatures who have thrived here in the past.
We pray
That we secure a future for them in this present
and with them for ourselves
and our children’s children.
We pray
That the trout will flourish again in the creek
and the frogs will always celebrate
in their evening song.

What we do today matters.
This soil we clothe is our body.
This earth we tend is our flesh.
These trees we plant are our breath.
Today we express the unity of all life.

Today we enter into a covenant with this place
And through the particularity of this place and time
with all places and all times:

©Diane Pendola, April 2001. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author. Thank you!

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