It’s October 28, 2019, at 3:49 am, and, although a carpet of snow is covering the ground outside, I’m unreasonably, unexpectedly thinking about wildfires this morning. 

If you’re the praying type, please pray for California, and more specifically, for the Napa Valley region, which is dealing, at present, with a few fires. 

One of them, the 54,000 acre Kincade Fire, has, just in the last 24 hours, been ratcheted back from 10% containment to 5%, expanding in all directions due to hot, dry, and terrifically windy conditions (like 88 miles an hour recorded on Mt. St. Helena).

Speaking of which, the current mandatory evacuation zone, as of 3 hours ago, is close to the town of Saint Helena, where our friends Erin and Jess live, and has already encompassed the town of Sebastopol, where, incredibly, just over a week ago, it was drizzling rain as Erin, Jess, my wife Nan, and I stopped for a leisurely lunch at Ramen Gaijin (recall my mouth-watering photos?)

Now, fire is a hot topic, and, as I’m neither a scientist nor a politician, I’ll avoid injecting my two cents into the cause of the American West’s recent bout of out-of-control fires and the remedy, except to say that there are different degrees of fire and we’ll continue to see hotter, more devastating ones the longer we neglect the elephant in the forest – that the issue has much more to do with fuel load/forest mismanagement than the main environmental stream of consciousness would care to admit

Imagine you have five acres of land in a heavily forested area. You keep excess fuel to a minimum, cutting dying and downed trees into firewood. You regularly remove needles and dry ground cover. You maintain fire breaks and keep trees from growing too close to your house. 

For decades, however, your next door neighbor allows his nearly identical 5 acres to go “au naturale”. By this point, it consists throughout of a thick mat of dry needles and a tangle of overgrown trees, living and dead. In fact, his home is enveloped in trees – his roof’s gutter is clogged with needles from the branches shed by some of them that grow right against the house.

A lightning storm rolls in, and two nearly identical bolts hit your land and his. 

Anyone want to hazard a guess which property will most likely reduced to a cracked, dry lakebed of a smoldering ruin and which one will have a much better chance to come out smelling like roses? Even if a fire burns on the latter property, it will have more difficulty expanding quickly, and probably will only singe the lower trunk of the trees, assuming the extreme intensity of their neighbor’s out-of-control fire doesn’t overrun their property as well.

Please send any of your comments in vehement disagreement to

Wow. A few fairly political posts centered on the American West as well as the politically moronic within one week. What’s going on? Despite a near total lack of wildfires at present, something smells rotten in the state of Colorado.

That’s what wife called me to say, near the end of my work day, a few years ago: the house smelled funnier than usual (speaking of au naturale, we had four boys living at home at the time and frequently had to keep the doors to their rooms closed due to the lack of regular showering and room cleaning and such) and she was even more concerned than usual.

When asked if it was like rotten eggs – a sign that there might be a natural gas leak – she said she wasn’t 100% sure, but that it smelled “hot”. I told her to get everyone out of the house, and I booked it home. Thankfully, home for me was a two-block bike ride, and, after okaying the abrupt exit with my supervisor, I was rounding the corner and pulling up to the house in mere moments. With everyone else safe outside, I warily entered the house. 

There was definitely something malodorous, but no, it wasn’t like rotten eggs. I walked through the ground floor and tried to determine the source, but after going through all of the rooms and then checking the furnace downstairs, I was unable to detect it. I opened the oven, but it was empty and cold, and anyway, the odor wasn’t like burnt food. It was just, somehow, “off”. With no descernable smoke, I was hesitant to call 911, but after trying a non-emergency fire department number and only getting voicemail, and with no dissipation of the mildly offensive stench, I decided I just had to do so. 

It was less than a minute of conversation with the person on the other end of the line, trying to assure them it didn’t rise to the level of an emergency, but that it’d be nice if someone could hop over from a fire station in a regular car just in case, when the fire trucks showed up, piercing sirens, conspicuous lights and all, and stopped up the southbound lane of our avenue, blocking a line of unlucky drivers for what felt like eons. A squad of men and women in bulky fire suits got out of the vehicles and I ran a couple of them through the story as I walked them through the house. During the tour, one of them, holding a meter of some sort, said “three parts per million” (I think), and I was ushered back out the front door along with the rest of the group filing out to don their breathing gear.

After a minute or two of re-entring, a firefighter came out carrying a smoldering mattress and pillow belonging to our youngest son and deposited it on the lawn for us, the drivers, and the neighbors to view. Long story short, he had left a lamp on in his bed earlier in the day which had tipped over, the bulb slowly melting a crater through the bedding. Not only that, but the pillow was stuffed with dry conifer needles! What was he thinking? Kidding.

Anyway, after being found innocent, if careless, he received a gentle but firm warning from a firefighter. The mattress, he told my wife and me out of his earshot, could have gone up in flames at any moment.

Now, there are two types of people: those who walk into a room and assume nothing’s wrong or out of place, and those who assume the opposite – those who just know there’s something, somewhere that requires attention in every situation, whether they have a whiff of it or not.

In the artistic realm, there are those who cross their t’s and dot their i’s and those who don’t. Those who, when viewing their own sloppy work – and here I should make a distinction between work left intentionally loose/unfinished/drippy and those whose work has a childlike quality because they’ve never learned an ounce of craft – say “it’s fine” as opposed to those who say to themselves, “there’s no way that’s leaving my work space/studio looking like that.”

Back when I supervised the sculpture shop for the Art Department at the Colorado College, I’d regularly make the rounds and see what was being produced in all the studio art classes. Once, I viewed the work of a painting student, which was abstract and loose and “drippy” – typically a bullseye in my aesthetic wheelhouse. 

But then I taught the same student how to make their own stretcher and stretch their own canvas, a prerequisite of the painting classes, and noted that their craftsmanship, or more to the point lack thereof, matched the way they painted. I was much less impressed with their painting after that. 

But show me someone who can make tight 90 degree corners and bevel their stretcher’s edges and stretch a canvas without a wrinkle or soft corners who then scrawls on it like Cy Twombly or like Atilla, our rental killa, and, despite the lack of traditional, academic painting skill, I’m usually all over it. I’m smitten.

By nature, I’ll admit, I am one of the former. I’m like one of my boys in their adolescent stage, simply unable to see that their Francis Bacon studio-like room has anything out of place. Before being forced to learn my lesson, repeatedly, I could metaphorically walk into a room thick with smoke and maybe even a lick of fire, and as long as there weren’t any flames actually singing my body, fall asleep on the couch. 

One of the most valuable things I learned during my years of doing custom art-related work for clients was how to think like the other type – the responsible type. The intentional type. To understand that 

something’s always either on fire, or it’s smoldering and just about to be. 

That entropy – the concept that the natural course of things is to tend from order to disorder – is a fact of life. 

But it also taught me that 

try as I might, and no matter how well I spot fires or adept I am at putting them out, somewhere, somehow, I’ll be blindsided.

This was made crystal clear to me during one display project in particular. 

A local college desired a large wall display. A production company the school was working with hired me to build it. Prior to doing so, someone from the company walked me through the college, and showed me two classrooms, labeled “Classroom A” and “Classroom B”. Classroom A was where I was supposed to install the display, and as I diligently made written note of this, I was informed that it was preferred that I install the completed project after hours, since the room was used for classes during the day.

About a month later, after the last coat of finish had dried, an assistant and I drove to the school with the display one evening and, after making numerous trips from truck to staging area escorted by a security guard, we were left on our own to do the installation. I went to the room where I thought I was supposed to install the display and looked around – everything looked the same as before, but in the hall the room’s nameplate informed me that this was Classroom B, not A. I checked my notes. Classroom A, like I thought, was where I was supposed to install the display. 

I walked over to the nameplate for Classroom A, entered the room, and switched on the lights. I hadn’t remembered viewing both rooms at first, but now I vaguely recalled seeing this one as well. It was a bit larger than the other room, so putting my long wall display in this one made more sense, and, after double and triple checking my notes and the nameplates, I settled on the thought that, since I remembered viewing both rooms, and had written down that the display needed to go in classroom A, I had simply “misremembered” the other, smaller room as Classroom A. It was late and there was no one at the school or the client’s office I could call to verify, so we went ahead and installed the display in what I was now sure was the correct location.

Next day I called the client, who said everyone was very happy with the display and all was well – most importantly, for me and my hungry brood, the check for the balance was being cut. There was only one minor thing: the display was in the wrong room. “But,” I said, trying to hide a tone of incredulity, “I verified that I was supposed to install it in classroom A – it’s in the contract and my notes.”
“Yes,” he responded, “however, it seems someone forgot to inform you that we recently switched the two rooms’ nameplates.” 

In the course of the conversation, he said that everyone felt that the display should stay in the larger room; that it looked better in there, and that the omission was actually a good thing. Phew! But what are the odds! I never could have anticipated something like that.
With that project, I learned something which has stuck with me ever since. 

They say one should never assume anything. 

They say anything that can go wrong will. 

As I mention elsewhere, it’s a good thing to literally measure twice before cutting once. To walk into your studio and assume something needs rather immediate attention.
Yes, that’s all well and good and grown up. But it’s also important to realize that

no matter how many lawyers you employ to check the fine print – no matter how thorough you are, something will smack you upside the head, seemingly out of nowhere. A 360 degree phalanx of Michael Ohers can’t prevent some predicament, some problem, from slipping through the gap.
However, and this is a big however, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the unpredictable “problem” is always a negative. 

Often times the things that are unforeseen (or uncontrollable even if they were predicted) can result, as with a forest after a wildfire, new areas of growth, or strokes of promise in one’s creative work, as well as in one’s life. Fortuitous ‘flukes’.
It’s a work-discovered adage of mine that 

if you expect the worst and expect the unexpected, you may end up with a blessing in disguise. Just don’t expect it.