After the fires: Letting go in order to create what comes next


The poppies are back. Their bright orange faces are everywhere right now, but they enchant me most when I see them cascading down a wall in the Fountain Grove neighborhood. Sadly, Fountain Grove was hit hard by the Santa Rosa firestorms, and I remember the first time I drove through and saw the destruction. I felt such pain and despair for all those who lost their homes, and also a pang of wistfulness, wondering if I’d ever see those cascading poppies again. But nature (and poppies) are irrepressible, and certainly seem to intrinsically understand letting go in order to create what comes next.

We’re more than six months past the fires now, and there are signs all around us that nature is rebounding.

Seeing the landscape greening up and the wildflowers blooming is heartening, to say the least. And since the fires I’ve learned some amazing things about nature’s resilience.

Like how oak trees have the ability to resprout long after they’ve been burned. And how other plants had already left a seed bank in the soil before the fires. In fact, according to Sonoma County Regional Parks 

Their seeds can persist for more than 40 years under the shade of their parent plants and only germinate after fire. For more severely burned sites, birds, animals, and the wind will bring in seed.

All of it makes me ponder the parallels between how nature heals and how human nature heals.

A part of me wants to say the process of letting go in order to create what’s next is more complicated for human beings, but I’m not totally sure about that. 

When you consider everything that’s happening in nature right now, there’s a sense of letting go as transformation.

In other words, a transformation that begins by taking bits and pieces of what once was and transforming them into something new: an oak tree sprout, a seedling, the germ of a tiny wildflower left on seemingly barren land by a little bird or the wind. 

Something quite similar is taking place in our human natures after the fires too.

Each time I read or learn about these healing transformations, I’m deeply touched. And there have been many during the past six months…

  • A burned tree carved into a beautiful healing shape
  • Bits of charred china or jewelry reworked into a mosaic
  • A shrine created after combing through the ashes of a former life
  • Friends gathering in burned out neighborhoods to celebrate holidays
  • Plants from a parched garden dug up and given new life in a new place 

So perhaps, like nature, we too intrinsically understand letting go in order to create what comes next.

This makes sense, given who we are. In our grief and loss, letting go doesn’t mean we cut off what once was there. Just like nature, we don’t say a hard and fast good-bye.

Instead, we create rituals and practices to transform and keep the attachment alive, because that is our nature as human beings. It’s how we function, through bonding, connection and attachment. And just because we lose someone or some thing, it doesn’t mean the attachment goes away.

Personally, I’m experiencing this myself right now too.

I’m letting go in order to create what comes next by making a collage.

Although I didn’t lose my home in the fire, I did lose my favorite place to stop, reflect, write and have a wonderful meal: Chloe’s French Cafe. And one month after the fires, I lost my dearest friend too.

So I’m ready now and I’ve gathered my materials. A piece of lace. The receipt from my last visit to Chloe’s. A scribbled note from Martha that’s nearly 20 years old.

And I’m finding there’s something tremendously comforting in knowing that our healing can continue in this way, supported by the creative force of both nature and human nature.

If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.
-Rainer Maria Rilke


Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.