Devastation and Beauty on the Periphery of the California Fires

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Blood red skies in San Francisco. Photo by Rich Hay on Unsplash

Sunday night as I tucked my 8 year old into bed, she told me

“Mama, I don’t think that I’m a very grateful person.”

We’d been watching the striking red sunrises together. And I told her about the fires that came again. She felt guilty to admire the beauty of the skies when so many people were evacuating their homes.

I am one of the luckies. I live in San Francisco. My home has never been razed to the ground. I have never been forced to evacuate, with 5 minutes to grab the cat, the hamster, the kids’ stuffies, important documents, and invaluable non-digitized family photographs. The most inconvenience I’ve had is PG&E’s power outages and bad air quality. Each day, I wake up to the glory of stark apocalyptic blood red skies, and it reminds me to cherish what is in my life.

Our physical surroundings are a choice once-made a long time ago. We may have chosen to live in a certain apartment in a certain city because of a job, a lover, or a school. That choice was made years ago and has already faded into the background, replaced by the ordinariness and regularity of routine. In San Francisco, we don’t dwell on living in an earthquake zone, other than when we get a reminder of a small tremor every few months or years. It is challenging to live in prospective terror every day of our lives.

Each day, we wake up, do our morning rituals, and then transition to work and school. Often the routes and days blur into each other, the ease of the commute making them automatic and residing in the bottom of our subconscious. The very ordinariness makes it routine and easy. Forgettable. Nondescript. Years of our lives can go by like this.

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In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have our basic physiological & safety needs—food, water, a warm bed to sleep in, and a refuge of a home. My family has our psychological needs met—friends, our family unit, and accomplishment through work and school. This foundation enables us to achieve our full potential, including tapping into our creativity.

Through this week, we have been waking up to a glorious red sunrise of beauty. On Monday, we woke up to the smell of smoke and knew that fires were getting worse. We could feel for the thousands of Sonoma residents evacuating their homes and even more Californians subjected to forced blackouts by PG&E. It’s a reminder, a trigger for a change in perspective.

Change is hard, change is good

I’ve repeated this mantra to myself as I’ve gone through major life changes over the past years. Yet perhaps change doesn’t need to be devastating to evoke a shift. Perhaps such a small change as being in the periphery of fire could evoke something new. Perhaps we could be in safety and security and have a physical change help us more easily reach trigger us to more easily reach self actualization.

What’s the perspective if you want to choose today? If you’re on the periphery of the Kincade fire, do you want to choose aggravation at the PG&E blackout and poor air quality? Or do you want to embrace the change in physical environment, and choose something else that may be possible.

Embracing a new perspective right now may not be possible. If you have been directly affected, like people I know who have lost their homes in last year’s Carr fire, everything can still be bleak. Without being in a place where basic and psychological needs are met, it’s challenging to have the luxury of choosing a perspective. There still needs to be time spent in grief and being with emotions.

Returning to my 8 year old’s perspective the other night: “Mama, I don’t think that I’m a very grateful person.” Her guilty insight led to us discussing the things she’s grateful for:

  • Her stuffie, Jelly Bunny

Just the basics. The physical surroundings of a fire was simple enough to jolt an 8 year old into gratitude. Afterwards, she slept better than she had in days.

If you’d like to directly help people affected by the Kincade fires, the San Francisco Chronicle recommends volunteering and donating.

Thank you to Margaret and Amara for reviewing early drafts of this post.


Hello! I’m your host, Tutti Taygerly. I’ve spent 20+ years in product design & technology, leading teams at startups, design agencies, and large tech companies. I left Facebook in summer 2019 to focus on leadership coaching full-time. I write weekly about topics related to design & coaching.

I grew up in seven countries on three continents and am settled in San Francisco as my home base. I spend my time parenting two adventurous girls, obsessively reading, and paddling out for the next wave.

If you’re curious about coaching and how it could unblock your life, learn more about what I do.

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Leadership coach & champion of difficult people; designer of human experiences; ex-Facebook; surfer, traveller, mom;

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