Melissa Severa, Yokoji Zen Mountain Center resident, writes about “one woman’s story of wildfire, family and the Zen of survival.” Her story, “Mountain Fire Mama,” is a deeply personal account of the center’s narrow escape from fire and the major damage it subsequently suffered from torrents of water carrying debris and mud that buried cars and impacted structures.
Servera will read from her book at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26, at the Idyllwild Library Community Room. It is a story of how the fire and rain affected not only her Zen Center family, but also of her many mountain women friends, “mountain mamas” all. “The women on this mountain are some fierce, yet gentle, down-to-earth or even more ethereal, survivors — stacking wood, traveling dangerous roads, letting the weather dictate the tasks for the day, going with the flow with determination — these are the women I know up here. These women here on this mountain, they are what inspired me to write this book, their gentleness, their fire. I’ve never experienced this great a sense of extended family.”
There is, in her account, a recurring theme: that people who live on this mountain are of a special sort — caring, helping and sharing what they have. As she says in her book, “Idyllwild has the highest concentration of people who just want to live a good life. The mountain attracts the people who are meant to live here, and live well.”
Yet, notes Severa, the very qualities in nature that influence and shape those who live here are the same that can, in a moment, sear and destroy it all. Wildfire moves quickly, leaving human and animal inhabitants little time to flee. Fast-moving water can carry away cars, people and animals.
Severa writes of the rapid evacuation of the Zen Center as flames approached. She recalls driving down their mile of dirt road with a minivan loaded with children and possessions past the approaching fire front — windows closed, sky darkened and embers flying like snow in the wind. And just as Idyllwild residents would experience two days later, she stopped when she safely could and looked back in the direction of her home. It is a moment any who had to evacuate during the Mountain Fire will remember — that look, perhaps the last, at the place where one’s home is.
“Looking at the green expanse in front of me with the fire front flowing
forward toward my familiar
forest and home, I think,
‘Will I ever see this again?’”
Severa writes of the days that follow — learning the center is safe, then returning to find much of it severely impacted by mud and debris, and the many weeks of debris and mud excavation and removal that follow. It is a story of flinty endurance, hard work, patience, trust and a belief that working together, in the face of adversity, brings out the best in people. “To really know a person, look at how they live through their difficult times,” she said.
“How do we live through the most adverse of circumstances,” asks Severa? “What is the quality that best boosts and carries us when we are most in need?” That is what “Mountain Fire Momma” is about. “The fragility of our bodies and of our lives, the earth’s immense power in nature to create disaster in the blink of an eye — war, school massacres, personal violence — and the Mountain Fire,” writes Severa. “Yet it is in this that we experience the nobility of the human condition. We still laugh and smile with one another with great love. So noble. We keep trying. I cry when I feel the oneness of the world in this beautiful way. I am proud to be here.”
For more about the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center visit www.zmc.org.