Mars turned retrograde on September 9. During its powerful station the day before, a wildfire devastated my Oregon hometown of Talent. I’m so fortunate my home survived.
The Almeda Fire raced from the highway into my town—down my very street. It came within 200 feet of my house! Thanks to the gods, the firefighters and the asphalt of Talent Avenue—the cross street one door down from me—they managed to turn the blaze away and steer it north, where tragically, it destroyed more than 600 homes. I have friends who lost everything.
Had the fire crossed to my side of Talent Avenue, it would have taken out the whole town. It’s such random luck to have bought my home on the west side—where now everything is just as it was the day before the fire—while on the east side, it’s nothing but ash and debris all the way to downtown.
Wildfires are an easy prediction for Mars retrogrades, especially when he’s in his home sign of fiery Aries. But is this actually useful to know? Mars goes retrograde every two years and most of the time, just like now, the majority of the world is fire-free.
I like to use astrology to read archetypes instead of making predictions. Archetypes are alive, like the deities the first astrologers worked with. Not just sky objects revolving on some mechanical wheel producing the same events again and again, they have agency. They’re creative. They write a slightly different script each time. Whatever occurs during significant transits is a message–an omen–a warning. It’s our job to read these signs–if we want to remain in a harmonious world.
To properly interpret mundane events, always look for confirmation of which god is speaking. If the Almeda fire is a Mars-driven omen, we should expect to see the people, qualities and things he rules involved in the story. Fire, heat, explosions are Mars; war zones, Mars; fire fighters, sheriff & police, air tanker pilots, emergency crews, all Mars; what’s wild and destructive, Mars; arsonists (so far at least one was arrested here), Mars.
Mars is a warrior. At his noblest, he’s destructive with purpose, serving the great organizer of civilization, the solar king. In Aries, Mars is also a trailblazer, a pathfinder. He takes point and identifies the smartest roads to our future.
The wind was crazy in my valley that night—the kind of wind that climate scientists have been predicting for years if we didn’t reverse our course. Wild weather is here. What’s the message? I think Mars is telling us that we’re running out of options. If we don’t work to save this planet like our lives depend on it—and of course they do—this is our destiny: a future of climate calamities around the world–wild floods, hurricanes, super storms, and of course, more fires.
How I spent evacuation night
My boxer Sophia and I sheltered in my car. Hotels were booked for 200 miles. I had to move four times as evacuation zones kept shifting. Earlier, in the late afternoon, I was heading to the post office when I saw the taillights of two long lines of cars, all going one way. I turned around. Down my street a police vehicle was broadcasting “All residents must evacuate!”
I grabbed my two computers and my iPad, some dog food, a jar of macadamia nuts, water, and my bathrobe. I’m neither daring nor adventurous (I have no Aries planets), but it just wasn’t in me to get stuck in what felt like a desperate, slow-moving herd. Instead I drove to the grocery store a mile away, closed because the power was out.
A quarter of the lot was full with others like myself. I decided I had enough time for Sophia and I to walk back home (they would have stopped my car), so I did that and got a few more things—3 books, a protective necklace, my phone charger, some vitamins, my yoga mat and props, something to sleep in, along with some underwear and socks. As I looked around the house, nothing else seemed important.
I became friends with the couple who live in the artsy house next to the grocery store. They let me use their bathroom. We watched as a mile away—near my street—thick black smoke started billowing in our direction. A cop drove by and said, “You’ll want to be leaving soon.” The wind kept blowing. There was a constant sound of pops and explosions; we figured, propane tanks and cars blowing up. There was a bright crackling sound too; likely, trees.
My new friends and I agreed we’d leave at the first sight of flames. A helicopter started making bucket drops on Talent Avenue. Air tankers began dropping their bright-pink flame retardant (that was a beautiful sight). Above one side of the road there was a line of raging black clouds—and above the other, my side, clear blue sky, not a wisp of smoke.
Then we saw the flames coming into the center of town. I headed out, met a cop who told me to go to the Expo in Central Point. The herd of slow-moving cars was long gone. I drove solo through the thick smoke. There were flames on either side of the highway. Familiar buildings were already in rubble; they looked like the burning ships on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.
Nearing the Expo I again saw the taillights of slow-moving cars. Astrologers typically advise to move more intuitively during retrogrades. That’s because the outer world is in chaos—logic can’t help you there. Intuition told me to park at the 24-hour truck stop; it had bathrooms, a grocery store, even a Subway sandwich shop. I felt like I was at the Ritz.
Later I learned the Expo had no facilities or services that night. It was just a parking lot which was soon filled to capacity and therefore closed, even as police kept sending people there. Apparently there were no other official emergency plans. Astrologers advise against launching important projects during Mars retrograde because action is often confused and ineffective. That night–and in the days following–there was a lot of that.
As grateful as our community is to the firefighters, the municipal teams (the local governments & agencies, sheriff & police departments) fell short in a thousand ways. Like–every month an Emergency Alert System interrupts my cable programming for a mandatory test; every 3 months or so, it tells me about a thunderstorm 50 miles away. But that night–and in the days following, when more fires and new evacuation zones were declared–not a peep.
I enjoyed the all-night truck stop–my Ritz–for a couple hours. Suddenly the manager locked down the pumps and closed the station. We were now in an evacuation zone. Even the once-lucky travelers with rooms in the fully booked hotel behind the truck stop had to leave. I had no choice but to join a long line of cars, going who knows where. I pulled off to spend a not entirely comfortable hour in another parking lot, where I figured out how to surreptitiously pee in a jar. After midnight, I had the intuition to get moving again.
The freeway going south was now open but deserted. I headed toward some familiar spaces in Medford when I saw the breathtaking sight of my neighboring town of Phoenix. It was completely dark as tall mountains of flames paraded from one end of town to the other.
I found a safe landing spot at a Medford Motel 6, in front of a beautifully lit pool and garden that looked like vintage 60’s. There was grass for Sophia to pee in. I was glad I brought my cozy robe. Out my window, even through the smoke, I watched such a sky show that night: first Jupiter, then the warrior himself, Mars; at the truck stop, a bright orange disseminating moon, rising, in the early morning, it was Venus. They were so comforting; it felt like the gang was watching over me.
I’ve never been good in emergencies. If it wasn’t for my meditation practice, I would have been a blithering idiot. I watched a documentary once about Allan Lokos, a meditation teacher who survived a plane crash in Myanmar. He recounted how, surrounded by smoke and ferocious flames, he and his wife never panicked. The calm inner mind you meet while sitting on a cushion–that mind took over. With unusual clarity they were able to chart a path through the flames and jump from the plane.
It was a little like that for me too. So calm. Not once did I worry and wonder if my house had burned down. I wasn’t making plans. Or thinking about what I’d have to replace. I was in the moment. It was a strangely spectacular night. That morning the Sanskrit word I randomly picked was marut: It means lightning and thunderbolts, roaring like lions; the flashing ones; storm gods; the children of heaven armed with golden weapons; wind, air, breath. * The force of Marut had swept into my valley with Mars.
In the morning my plan to pee at the nearby Walmart or Starbucks was foiled. Both were in a level 2 evacuation zone (I later learned, as this wasn’t posted anywhere), but it meant that nothing was open. I watched dozens of people sadly circle these stores and leave. My good spirits began to crumble. The day was going to be hot. I couldn’t drive around with Sophia forever. Intuition kept repeating the name of a friend in Medford–whose number I’d forgotten I had in my phone (me who prefers email and rarely calls or texts anyone). Generously MJ rescued me. As did so many others, all over the valley, who were opening their homes to fire refugees.
While the official people failed us at many turns, average citizens, through social media and other means became the heroes. They snuck into the fire zones and took videos of the streets, so that people could see whether or not their house survived (that’s how I learned my home was safe). They created go-fund-me pages, organized donation centers, and handed out food; neighbor helping neighbor. As heart-breaking as the loss and devastation are, the outpouring of support has been so heart-fueling. It’s an affirmation that love is real and people are basically good.
If only we can muster that same love to save our collective home, this blue jewel of a planet. May we find the marut inside to turn back climate change. Mars is rooting for us. “Wake up,” he says, “wake up!”
Coda: Marking how intuition speaks
The night before the fire, the Eastern winds were wilder than anything I’d ever known in 20 years in Southern Oregon. Thinking back to the Santa Ana winds of my California childhood, that morning at the dog park I told my friend Bill (without any sense of premonition), “It just feels dangerous today—like the kind of day when a fire could take down a whole neighborhood.” A week earlier, in the hall going to my bedroom, I had a brief sense of catastrophe—I saw emergency vehicles in the park behind my house. Maybe a future earthquake, I thought.
That’s how intuition speaks to me—not with clarity and precision, as in, “On Tuesday September 8 a wildfire will come up your street.” That would not be useful to me. What would I do with this info? Check my homeowners policy? Pack a go bag? Inform the authorities? We all know how things went for Cassandra.
As it is with many people, my intuition is softer and more mysterious, also more loving. I can see now that (along with the random Sanskrit word marut), she was gently conditioning my psyche, emotionally rehearsing me without alarming me, so that when it all went down—me being a mostly deer-in-the-headlights type–I could show up more quickly.
I often tell my clients to study the patterns of their own intuition. Like mine, yours reveals herself to you continually. She is a friend who is always near, if the crowded mind can just get silent (this is of course the primary benefit of meditation). Intuition affirms that we’re not alone in this life. There are always angels whispering in our ears if we but listen.
* From the wonderful Lorin Roche’s The Radiance Sutras, p. 182.