When Trevor Quirk, the force behind the Upper Ojai Relief Station, heard news of an injured baby bear he did what he had been doing for about a month since the Thomas Fire swept through: He responded with his presence and resources, plus a call for help, in this case to the Fish and Game Warden, wildlife biologists and a veterinarian. A Facebook forum acting as a lifeline throughout the fire and recovery has chronicled it all. Locals and a far flung community with ties to Ojai ached and hoped for the best once we heard about the wounded baby bear.
Video of Trevor giving the young male black bear (about eight months old) drinks of water captivated the Ojai community. We had collectively been through numerous waves of fear, confusion and grief as the fire raged through Upper Ojai and formed a ring around the rest of our valley. We were mourning many home losses. And now we saw the impact on this innocent life, one of many we were sure. We saw Trevor's tears and they were our own. Something about the bear's immobility was our own too.
We also had been caught off guard and had our lives changed. We had fast electronic ways to communicate across the miles; we had cars and trucks and fire hoses. We were luckier, but we were not unscathed. And we were stuck in a new normal of flaring hot spots, ash and particulate matter thick in the air and everywhere, sorrow for grave material losses among us, missed work days, sleepless nights and clouds of worry.
The bear was named Sisa for the Chumash village near where he was found. Sisa was hurt very badly, having lost his claws and even some paws. One eye was missing and Sisa's jawbone was visible on one side. But the first thing one viewing the videos can't help but notice is Sisa bear's strong, clear, gentle and receptive life force even after harrowing weeks of fire, smoke, disorienting loss and shadeless heat. Sisa met Trevor with his dignity of life intact, and a sweet demeanor too...similar traits show by Trevor, come to think of it.
I was inspired to write a poem, and then to do this drawing. When I shared them in our Facebook forum, something resonated and helped people release a lot of built up pain and sorrow. Some was about Sisa having to be euthanized, because his inujries in the end were too great for healthy survival. But it was also about so many things. Memorializing the moment put words to our collective vulnerability and the deep and beautiful sharing we had all witnessed. It let us begin to find some closure. It imprinted kindness on us.
The Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in recorded California history, was a fierce drought-driven, wind-driven dragon that multiplied extremely fast, with embers flying and tree root systems aiding the speed by transmitting the extreme temperature. It burned for over a month. Its burn scar covers 281,893 acres, which is about 440 square miles. Over 170 people in Ojai lost homes, and the majority of these were in Upper Ojai.
After seeing his wife and children away to safety, Trevor stayed and fought the fire with a few friends, and as flames calmed down he and an ever growing group of volunteers have continued pivoting to all related needs in the area. He has left his law practice in the care of his law-partner wife for now, and devoted hours and days to cutting branches from damaged trees, clearing properties, offering food, tools, clothes, sleeping bags, musical instruments, you name it. Trevor bought many pepople chainsaws at his own expense, because the danger of unstable trees was everywhere once the fire passed through. And so much of what the Station is giving has been pouring in from caring people near and far. Needs expressed on the Facebook forum bring results. Others just give what they sense is needed, or might help heal a heart or fill some bellies, and these always seem to be just right. Water, wheelbarrows, tools, sifters, toys, gift cards, breakfasts, ice cream, warm jackets, coffee, produce, paper products, air purifiers - the array of things this relief station has received and given out is astounding, and the helpers keep on helping.
The Upper Ojai Relief Station is now officially a 501(c)3. Learn more and see the community in action here: https://upperojairelief.com/
All proceeds from these t-shirts, beyond the costs of shirts, ink and admin for InkToThePeople, will go directly to The Upper Ojai Relief Station and the people it is serving.
Let me share my poem. I couldn't be more moved and honored to help fundraise for the Upper Ojai community.
About a bear
Oh fire baby
rolling awkwardly in your body
you show us something is not right
But in your broken bearing there's a clear, sweet light
You accept help, drink water, and
a simple plastic bottle becomes a torch
You light a way for us with your humble, wise life force
We don’t get to walk out of this unbroken
We don’t get to walk out of this broken only
We don't get to save your crippled form
or hate ourselves for failing
I saw the touch between our worlds as a tableau, sort of a different Michelangelo
a reach across the aisle between beings sharing spaces
and a call to tend the resources of this globe
Worlds collide, there's a
hello in the heart of a goodbye
an open soul in your one unharmed eye
I think I will carry you a long while inside
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