Tuesday, November 17, 2020

post-fire report

My article on how Ursula Le Guin fictionalized the Napa Valley for Always Coming Home was already in submission when the Glass Fire devastated the upper valley a month and more ago. "Now what?" I wondered. "Is everything I wrote about gone?" From the reports I read I doubted it, but there's nothing like seeing for yourself. So once things were safe - and after some rains hit the valley last weekend I judged they were - I decided to make a quick reconnaissance and write a footnote for my article.

So yesterday I took my first day trip since the start of the pandemic, going further away from home than the 30 miles or so that had been my previous furthest travels. I was gone for nearly 8 hours, and in the Valley for 3. (Heavy afternoon traffic - rush-hour jams have been gone from home, but they're alive and well in Vallejo and Oakland - delayed my return.) I was very strict about my contacts: except for a visit to an otherwise-empty fast-food counter to buy a bag lunch to go (which I ate in the car with fresh rubber gloves on), and a couple quick pit stops, I never left my car. (Which meant I felt awfully creaky when I did.)

During my visit, for which I brought along all the maps I'd annotated back when I first analyzed ACH's geography when it was new, I systematically visited all the Kesh village sites from the book, and was relieved to find little changed. Around a few of them, some but not all of the woods were scorched. Especially along the Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley, road lanes in various places were blocked as crews cut down the trees sufficiently damaged that they might fall on the road. But most of the trees will survive, as is typical after forest fires. Nothing else that I visited was hit. Kishamish stands, as does all the country around it, though it was close to the perimeter. Damage from the fire was severe, but localized.

Just in case I had some extra time - which I didn't - I brought along Lavinia, Le Guin's last novel and the only one I've never read. (I've read Malafrena, but don't ask me to remember anything about it.) My problem with Lavinia is that it's based on the Aeneid, a book I've never cottoned to. I tried to read that (in translation, of course) in college, but quickly reached the conclusion that if Homer is Tolkien, Vergil is Terry Brooks. I expect Le Guin would disagree, but I also expect she'd say you have to read it in Latin.

I did read the first page of Lavinia. The narrator is camping on the banks of the Tiber. She says, "I woke at the first beginning of light. The others were sound asleep. The birds were just beginning their dawn chorus. I got up and went down to the mouth of the river." There she says a prayer and drinks the river water. I can think of something else she might do by the river after rising first thing in the morning, something that might make her think twice about drinking the water, but enough of that.

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