During 39 rotations of the earth, as 2017 turned to 2018, the Thomas Fire burned over 281,000 acres of land in southern California. At the height of the blaze, 10,000 firefighters traversed the mountainous landscapes in the foothills of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
In the deep canyons of Los Padres National Forest, the blaze jumped culverts, firebreaks, and ravines. In mandatory evacuation, Lisa and her family stayed at a friend’s in Isla Vista. One day that friend texted Lisa an image: her home was on the news, a silhouette against flames. The house appeared to be on fire.
The evacuation lifted, Lisa and her family returned home to witness dozens of firefighters putting out hotspots and gathering equipment. The firefighters described the property at 296 West Mountain Drive as the Last Stand, where the blaze was finally turned away from the front country. Over the course of its containment, firefighters plotted new trails, cleared vegetation, and cut channels in the earth. As of January 12, 2018, the Thomas Fire was declared fully contained, but in the days immediately preceding that declaration, torrential rains—the first of 2018—precipitated mudslides, further ravaging the community.
The behavior of the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides was unpredictable—neither flames nor silt followed expected paths. Unpredictability may have contributed to loss: of those who perished, many were not in the Office of Emergency Management’s mandatory evacuation zones for anticipated flash floods. While still recovering from the trauma of darkened and burning skies, caught unawares, members of the community suffered this second blow.
“from there to here, from then to now” chronicles our peregrinations through the landscapes affected and deeply marred by the Thomas Fire. Walking these landscapes as healing, we furl and unfurl a Gunter’s (surveyor’s) chain of brass, tracing and marking paths of rescue, loss, healing, and regeneration. Witness to the state of the land, our tracings of the landscape serve as a metaphor for navigating the unpredictability of our social, psychological, political, and ecological landscapes, where flames and torrents increasingly ignite all too frequently, precipitating loss and uncertain times.
This ongoing work has been shown both in and out of galleries; recently, we participated in Conversations through the Smoke, a traveling interdisciplinary public discussion, as well as an iteration of the Saunter Trek Escort Parade (S.T.E.P.) at the Queens Museum.