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When Your Soul is On Fire – the Station Fire, Chantry Flats, Sturtevant Camp and the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Perhaps our souls are burning along with the forest as we experience the shock, sadness, anger, fear and confusion of watching the mountains, once rich with life, turn desolate moonscape.

In a stupor of smoke, we watch homes evaporate, and wonder if ours might be next.  With ravaged hearts, we mourn brave heroes, and imagine the innocents . . . thousands of creatures with nowhere to go, but up in flames.

When I was young, I used to take my Golden Retriever up Santa Anita to Chantry Flats.  From there we’d wind our way down to First Water, then Hermit Falls to spend lazy afternoons jumping into the frigid pool and thawing on granite by turns.

Other times I’d hike up to Sturtevant Falls and let the mist moisten my face as well as my sandwich.

In 1994, we formally joined the historic canyon community above Sierra Madre known as the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  We bought a cabin when the oldest of our four children was barely out of diapers.

We spent hours upon hours in front of the fireplace, mesmerized by the flames, roasting marshmallows, happy to be warm in the middle of winter.  By candle and lamp oil, the children played with wooden blocks and formed clay wonders as we read “The Lorax” and “The Pokey Little Puppy” for the 89th time.

Over the years, it’s been one of those places where we can step out of time.  Without TV, XBOX, cell phones or internet, we’re free to experience the pure joy of being together, and the simple pleasures of slow and thoughtful food preparation, chopping wood, talking, laughing and telling stories.

And we can travel from our city life to our ‘real’ life in under an hour.  Door to door is usually about 45 minutes, which has been an unparalleled gift to us over the years.  Rural, peaceful, turn-of-the-century living within minutes of the madness.

Our small little space is a regenerative refuge by itself, but we’ve also grown to love, adore and belong to the crazy, eccentric, generous and loving community of cabin owners.  The canyon has a life of its own, but it’s definitely become increasingly rich and colorful as we’ve built relationships and shared experiences with our friends up there.

If you’ve lived in this area for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve taken the opportunity to experience the beauty of the canyon first hand.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how your cares unwind with each step you take down the road from Chantry to Roberts Camp, where you’ll decide whether to explore Winter Creek, or continue on to the Falls and beyond.

A walk through Nature’s playground is one of the most powerful ways to ground, clear and balance ourselves.

Perhaps you’ve had the good fortune to stumble upon Sturtevant Camp where you can pick up the Mt. Wilson Trail, or head over across Newcombs Pass.  If you haven’t, and if by some miracle you ever get the chance to again, you must make a trek there.

Historic Sturtevant Camp was established in 1893, and is the only camp from the Great Hiking Era which is still in operation in the San Gabriel Mountains.  Surrounded by the largest virgin stand of Big Cone Spruce trees in the United States, Sturtevant’s setting provides the perfect opportunity to experience the local wilderness.

You’ll be absolutely enchanted by Chris and Joan Kasten, the gentle on-site caretakers. Sturtevant ( is an oasis of generosity where thirst is quenched, the lost are found, and the curious are met with polite helpfulness.  Chris . . . he’s the most egoless man I’ve ever met.  He’s a unique, Woodstocky blend of Stephen Hawkings, Mr. Rogers and Jesus.

And perhaps you’ve refreshed yourself with an ice cold beer at Adam’s Pack Station after a long, hot assent up the hill, while your kids squeal with delight at the goats, chickens and mules (that are still used as pack animals serving cabin owners up and down the canyon).

By the time this is published, we’ll know if the part of our Collective Soul known as the Big Santa Anita Canyon will remain a haven for local residents and cabin owners . . . . or not.

As of this writing, we are forced to prepare to surrender to forces beyond our control . . . to surrender our way of life for a very, very long time.  It’s humbling.  We’ll pray and give thanks for assistance both earthly and otherwise.

But perhaps while dead brush accumulated over decades goes up in walls of furious flame, we can invite a fire of renewal to burn away the tired baggage we’ve been dragging along in our souls over the years.

What is it time to let go of?  Are we ready to forgive ourselves and each other?  Are we ready to receive a renewed sense of gratitude for life and each day that we’re given to live it?

Paul Bowles, near the end of his life said,

“We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really.  How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it?  Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that.  How many more times will you watch the full moon rise?  Perhaps twenty.”

When we get older, or when we experience events like the Station fire, life takes on a special poignancy precisely because we realize that time is limited.  We realize just how fragile life can be.

It becomes more important than ever to spend time with the people we love . . . to create and savor simple, precious moments.

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