I woke in the dark, and the sky was on fire. Through our bedroom skylight I saw the overarching bowl of night pulsing crimson above the big-leaf maple. Two owls called back and forth. I leapt up to see if they were in trouble, if we and they had to leave our homes—if the woods up the hill were full of flames that would soon engulf our house. Wildfire has overtaken many lives and homes of late and has burned hotter and brighter than we’ve known in our lifetimes. It’s not surprising that awareness of it would seep into my sleep.
I’d seen light through the skylight before, but only during the Grande Finale that ends the Fourth of July fireworks. But that was over days ago. And it was not this red.
As I woke more, the light show faded. The red in the sky dimmed. The owls went silent, and the forest behind our home remained cool and green.
It couldn’t have been just my eyes. I’d seen the fire. It had lasted long enough to wake me from sound sleep.
I’d been dreaming, but not about wildfire. Instead I’d been back at a close friend’s house, waiting while he and his band who have played rock ’n’ roll together since high school finished a tune in their home studio. Loud music filled the house—guitar riffs, drum solos, pounding bass.
The song ended, the musicians emerged. About a dozen men in their late fifties and early sixties filed down the hall. All were smiling as they approached—all looked elated. Lit by the passion of song and solidarity, they crowded into a room and raved about how great the session had been. My close friend said hello and introduced me around. I already knew another of the men, the biggest one, who also acknowledged we’d met before. Forty years ago.
The musicians were aflame with the thrill of the band. They had been living this same dream for decades. They’d found their thing young, and they hadn’t stopped doing it.
“The doing of the thing,” I thought to myself as I paced the house, watching for the fire, listening for sirens. The doing of one’s passion. The thing that defines one’s life and makes it worth living, again and again if we could.
These lines from “The Journey” by Mary Oliver came to mind:
. . . you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night . . .
A night of fire. The fire of the musicians, the fire I feel in my life toward water, family, the forest through which the owls call, the green of the planet, the ice that makes it livable. I’ll see that red sky pulsing overhead again, I just know. It woke me up with color and sound, insistent to deliver a message, and I pray to keep it close.