By Rebecca Kosugi
In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, one must find serenity through forming a relationship with their higher power. Admittedly when I first got sober this was just an abstract concept to me. Eventually I came to the conclusion that my higher power was to be found in nature. As cliché as it sounded I was confident that I had found more serenity outside of cityscapes, away from power lines and bright lights, than anywhere else. Most of what triggered me to drink was found in my role in society and in my interactions with other people and things in the “human” world. It was when I was able to see myself as a small part in something bigger than day-to-day life that I could quiet my mind. Fortunately for me, my job at MRT has allowed me to spend the majority of my time outside. The practices and principles found in my recovery are revealed to me “in the field” almost everyday. The most recent example of this centered on the Woolsey Fire.
On November 8th 2018, my fellow vegetation crew members and I were out watering the Coast Live Oaks trees at Nicholas Flats trail. MRT was in the last month a 3-year contract with California State Parks to establish 300 oak trees along the Nicolas Flats trail. It had always been my favorite project and I took my role as Site Captain there very seriously. I used to think it was strange how attached the previous Site Captain was to the oak seedlings. However once I inherited the project from him, I got it. Every tree received a monthly check up and report card. All individuals were watered by hand – a very strenuous and time-consuming process. The crew built shade structures out of strategically placed pieces of dead wood. Due to the large number of trees and the enormous area we had to cover, each tree was only visited once a month. If we fell behind schedule some trees would be under-watered. Because of this and my passion for the site, I became increasingly more controlling as time went on. I felt the urge to ensure that everything was perfect. I had to make sure that the seedlings would make it. This all changed later that night.
The Woolsey Fire made it way to the Calabasas-area practically overnight. I tracked the fire from home as MRT HQ and its operations were shut down. Several days passed before I could go back to work. Being grounded took a toll on me. Without work to take up my time I realized my sober life was empty. In stripping my life of what was unhealthy I also lost what was familiar to me. I stopped going out, I severed ties with old friends, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to meetings, but without the liquid confidence of alcohol in hand, I found it difficult to introduce myself to new people. Once the smoke cleared (literally), I was relieved to be able to return to the field. However another month passed before I was able to visit Nicholas Flats again. I knew the fire blazed through the region but I had to see the damage for myself. Finally we had our chance: the crew and I got out of the truck and stepped foot into what had become a sepia-toned portrait of a stark moonscape. The ground was bald except for the charred remains of the trees. It was unrecognizable. Up until that point I was afraid the destruction would be too much for me to handle. As we looked closer we could see new growth at the base of some of the woody shrubs and trees. After a fire the shade of the older trees is cleared and young trees that had been hidden in their shadows, and the seedlings lying dormant in the seed bank rise up to seize their opportunity. Eventually these re-sprouts would grow and fill in. But for now the scenery was going through an awkward phase – filling in the barren landscape would take time. The stark parallels that nature draws to my own life do not go unnoticed to me. My life will take time to fill in as well – new hobbies, friends, new methods of coping. Eventually the awkward phase will pass, and I will re-sprout.