It was dinnertime at the Ananda Meditation Retreat during a very hot, dry August. I was cooking in the common dome kitchen while staff member Dave Warner sat outside on the deck with some of our retreatants.
No smoke in sight
From the kitchen I heard the sound of a low flying borate bomber and wondered if there was a fire nearby. Borate bombers are small planes that drop fire retardants to stop the progress of wildfires. Sierra foothill residents are very familiar with the sound of their engines, and invariably look around for smoke. Since there was no smoke in sight, I was not alarmed.
One of the retreatants had noticed the plane and asked Dave, “Is that a borate bomber?” Dave was just beginning to explain why the plane wasn’t a borate bomber when, suddenly, it dropped a load of borate a few hundred yards away.
Just about that time, Wyatt Farkas, another staff member, came rushing into the kitchen to call the fire department. He had climbed a nearby tree and spotted flames. Because of the tall evergreens that encircle the common dome, we hadn’t been able to see anything.
Engulfed in flames
We all rushed toward a little A-frame building, which was completely engulfed in flames. Fortunately, in the windless air, the flames were going straight up, and the borate, which covered the surrounding bushes, was containing the fire.
Within a minute or so, the volunteer fire department arrived with a large truck. We were quite surprised because it normally takes a fire truck twenty minutes to reach our remote location. The building was mostly gone at that point, and the fire was quickly extinguished.
As the fire danger passed, we began asking questions. How had the borate pilot and the fire department known about the fire, when we, just a few hundred yards away, had no warning? We learned that ten minutes before the plane dropped the borate, a child had bicycled right past the little A-frame and hadn’t noticed any flames.
In the space of ten minutes, two things happened. The A-frame burst into flames and moments later, a borate bomber just happened to be flying overhead on its way to a fire in nearby Downieville. Seeing the flames, the pilot radioed the tower for permission to drop the borate on our fire. His radio call alerted our local fire fighters. That accounted for the swift arrival of the volunteer brigade.
That night, after all the excitement had died down, I went home and meditated. I was overwhelmed with the awareness of Divine Mother’s powerful and loving care. Her protection, her split second timing, had been flawless.
It’s so easy to get lost in the details of our lives, our unending to-do lists, and to feel that it is “up to us” to make things happen. An event like this puts into striking perspective how tiny we are compared to God, and how enormous is God’s power and intelligence.
It is the Divine hand that wields the power. The most important thing we can do is to trust in that Power, stay in tune with it, and lovingly surrender our lives to it.
A slightly burned photo
The couple who lived in the A-frame were working in town the night of the fire. We found a cabin for them and belongings to tide them over. Within weeks, thanks to friends at Ananda, everything they’d lost was replaced.
It took a few days for the ashes to cool enough for us to clear the rubble. At first it seemed that nothing had survived the intensity of that blaze. However, while clearing the site, someone noticed a slightly burned item in the nearby bushes. It was the frontispiece from Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi.
That page, with Yogananda’s sweet photo, neatly burned around the edges, was all that remained of the book. God was giving us another little reminder of who is in charge of our lives — just in case we hadn’t noticed.