By Lisa Murray, SkyGirl Productions

Lisa Murray wears many hats as a visual storyteller through SkyGirl Productions, her work with the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association, and the role she took on in helping Sustainable Solano connect with farms hurt by the LNU Lightning Fire in 2020. She offers an update on those farms in this blog.

Courtesy of Lisa Murray

The weekend of Dec. 19 was just past the four month mark from the LNU Lightning Complex Fire that ripped through Vacaville’s rural area. Instead of looking at the destruction and blackened hills with a feeling of loss and overwhelming grief, the weekend offered the first glimmers of hope.

There were two events happening in Pleasants Valley that promised healing for all involved. The first, Sow Beautiful, a native wildflower & native bunchgrass reseeding project, headed up by Karen Lee Ford and Clay Ford of Pleasants Valley Honey Company (a.k.a. “Clay’s Bees”) and partners including the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association (PVAA), Morningsun Herb Farm, and Solano RCD.

Karen reached out to landowners and then collected volunteers via the PVAA website. With an initial training session by Solano RCD, the volunteers were off and seeding. The plan is to reseed select areas to be a draw for pollinators come spring.

Kristina Young paints at Girl on the Hill during the From Ashes to Springtime event. (courtesy of Lisa Murray)
Children play at Joyful Ranch during the Sow Beautiful reseeding event. (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

The second event was the first day of From Ashes to Springtime, an outdoor art event documenting the regeneration after the fire. Artists — painters, drawers, photographers — were invited onto private properties for the day to paint what they see now and then they will be invited back in the spring to paint what they see then. On April 17, there will be an art show/sale at Joyful Ranch to show off all of the amazing art that was created and the art will also be for sale. A portion of the sales will go to the landowners to help with their further recovery efforts.

I live in these areas, and I’m an artist myself, and even I saw these places with new eyes on that day. I took off my “regular life glasses” and put on my “artist glasses” and was really amazed by what I was seeing. First, to just see my friends’ blackened properties now teeming with artists who were honored and humbled to be there to witness what their fellow Vacaville residents and farmers had survived was an important step in the healing for all of us. And, at the same time as the sadness and shock at the now burned landscape, the artists were also inspired by the unique beauty that the landscape presented and excited to come back in the spring. My “artist eyes” saw the colors and lines differently on that day as well. I now saw the black ground as a great backdrop to all of the beauty that is nature. We also saw green! In some places, just blades of green grass poking through the blackened topsoil, in other places, bunches of

Lake Curry is visible from Samuels Ranch Sustainable (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

Girl on the Hill is a lavender farm and vineyard located on top of Mount Vaca and was hit hard by the fire. Denise and Dan (owners/famers) lost all of their lavender plants as well as their lavender workshop, their still, and several other buildings. Kristina Young, a Napa-based plein air painter who was painting at Girl on the Hill, was mesmerized by the beauty all around her.

“I have plein air painted all over the world and there is no other time in my life that I could paint this scene. I couldn’t get into a plane and go to paint this. Even in Napa after the fires there, I couldn’t paint something like this. This is so beautiful and unique. My heart breaks for all that was lost but as an artist, I see the beauty too. The shapes of the branches, the colors, with the black, it’s stunning. As a plein air artist, I capture nature and this is nature.”

Dan was visibly happy as he walked around delivering chai tea and gingerbread snap cookies to the artists. (And the artists were delighted by the hospitality they are not used to experiencing as plein air painters – usually they’re all alone!)

Jasmine Westbrook and her sister Whitney of Samuels Ranch Sustainable — also located on top of Mount Vaca — were both sad and inspired hosting their first “guests” since the fire that took out all three of their homes and half of their herd of sheep. The family barely escaped with their lives that horrible night. And now they were hosting artists to paint/draw/photograph the scenes from their burned land. There are so many spots on their property that have breathtaking views. By the gate, you can see Lake Curry through the burned branches. On the other side, a spectacular view of Lake Berryessa glistened in the sun. Artists had a hard time choosing which view spoked to them strongest.

The Sow Beautiful reseeding at Soul Food Farm (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

Other properties that hosted artists were Brazelton Ranch, Zinger Ranch and Wingate Trainers.

On other properties, the clean-ups continue. At La Borgata, Gerry & David were able to put a downpayment down on a new tractor — they lost two in the fire — to clear out some of the burned areas. Most of the rubbish has been taken away, leaving only the two tractors and a forklift — all three too heavy for the company that came to help haul them away. They are awaiting the company’s return with stronger and bigger equipment.

You wouldn’t believe how long everything takes to just clear away the burned stuff. But in a farmer’s life, nature doesn’t wait, so there were plantings and December sales for Soul Food Farm and Morningsun Herb Farm.

With the holidays, everybody could look forward to a well-deserved rest. The work as a farmer doesn’t stop, but it slows down considerably. Nature is resting and receiving the much-needed early winter rains. And the farmers are taking this well-deserved time to regenerate themselves, take stock of what they have been through, and visualize where they see themselves and their farms going in 2021. The healing continues for everyone, and I am excited to see how everyone emerges in early spring.

Sustainable Solano continues to work with farms, ranches and wineries that were damaged by the fires. Learn more here about how you can help or how affected farms can apply for project-based disaster relief funding.