FIRE SIGNS: As these words are being scribbled (or fingered, tapped, twittered, whatever) on an early Thursday afternoon, the sky is blue but flecked with gray. Vari-colored smoke plumes fester up in the foothills, with a particularly nasty-looking fire drama raging near our beloved La Cumbre peak. Ashen dandruff dusts the backyard and cars left naked to the elements, the elements being a Santa Barbara chastened by reality in the post-Jesusita Fire period. No longer just a name inspiring fondness for hikers, the word “Jesusita” now takes its dubious place in the annals of fire monikers in Santa Barbara-Tea, Gap, Zaca, Painted Cave, Coyote :. Ellipsis marks are required. The list will go on.

Tuesday, the Jesusita Fire was one thing-a scary prospect cooled off by late evening. On Wednesday, the fire became something else-an unruly beast casting dread and a trail of destruction, including the structural sort. The Austrian-accented press conference held by Governor Arnold at Earl Warren Showgrounds on Thursday morning was somehow comforting, regardless of the actual words or numbers delivered.

Leon Russell

THE SHOW GOES ON: Last Tuesday night, Leon Russell came to SOhO and the tension in the room was palpable. Before he went on, we had been led to believe that Tea 2.0 was in the offing, and all eyes darted toward the TV screen in the club. But miraculously (if we can use that word), the weather turned agreeable, eerily almost in synch with the time the gruffly loveable southerner Russell hit the stage, in all his white bearded, white be-hatted splendor. It seemed as if what might have been a chip off the Tea Fire-whose fury was vented in one intense several-hour burst-was smoldering into mild also-ran status. So we thought. Then, around 3 p.m. the next day, as if the angry Gods of Mother Nature wanted to spite our smugness, the story changed radically.

Santa Barbara’s cultural landscape isn’t immune to the effects of fire, not only in terms of musical balm, but cancelled performances. One thinks back to earlier interactions of fires and performers. Last November at Hahn Hall, shortly after the Tea firestorm, cellist Lynn Harrell offered a sincere dedication to victims and to the city, before launching into a performance of Bach Cello Suites, which felt extra-irradiated with calming profundity. Back in 1992, Joe Cocker-then a “mountain dweller” up off Highway 154-gave a benefit show at the Bowl for victims of the Painted Cave Fire.

As these words are read, much more on the story will have unfolded. Fates will have altered, known things will have been made unknown, and the info-fury of TV-newspaper-Internet-Twitter-etcetera will have amounted to the disposable, hyper-driven flow of information in our age. But what a strange sensation to sit in the middle of a historic moment, waiting for the whipping wind that may or not come and turn your evacuation warning zone into a mandatory fleeing notice. Cars are fully packed, facing outward, brains on nervous alert. Lurking in a spot two miles from the fire’s origin, you wonder, “Will this house in the ‘burbs be toast before nightfall?”

Secondarily, you reflect on the possibly positive upshot to life in this God-kissed and sometimes fire-cursed place, which has been dubbed a “year-round fire season”: should we be so attached to the stuff of : stuff?

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, DALAI LAMA? Besides offering a day of enlightenment, rejuvenation, a contact high, and a ripe excuse to dodge workaday reality, the Dalai Lama‘s visit to UCSB a few Fridays back had its musical component. Listening to His Holiness’ morning lecture, as it built to its climax, the excited rise and fall of his cadences in Tibetan had their own hypnotic effect, even before the translator informed us about “the innate mind of clear light” and the “union of clarity and emptiness.” Not bad ideas to bear in mind in the aftermath of yet another incendiary “incident” in our fragile Valhalla.


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