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June 16, 2021

Art exhibit provides space for locals touched by CZU fire to reflect

Devi Pride did not expect to shed tears during the opening of her 12-panel art showcase of her wildfire-ravaged property in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

“I didn’t think I’d have such an emotional response,” Pride said, standing in a shady spot next to the series outside of the Felton Branch Library, which features stark subject matter with lines of a poem she wrote superimposed. “But we all need to hear our own words sometimes.”

On May 8, Pride’s work was displayed in a line along Gushee Street, amid fluttering leaves and deep green branches. The show was meant to give those who were touched by the CZU Lightning Complex a space to reflect and breathe—it also connected fire survivors with county resources. Her work was unveiled in tandem with a similar series, posted along a trail through Discovery Park by the library, featuring laminated pages from Alison Farrell’s children’s book “The Hike.”

One of Pride’s panels focuses on a fallen log with yellow and green grasses swaying freely beside it. The words “REJUVENATE/WE CHOOSE TO THRIVE” accompany the image. Another portraying a blackened tree, still standing with green shoots protruding from its bark reads “REENVISION/FROM COLOR TO BLACK AND WHITE TO COLOR AGAIN.”

For Pride, the images put the last nine months into perspective. Like thousands of other Santa Cruz Mountain residents, she lost her home in the CZU Complex. In the aftermath, she spent hours excavating at her Big Basin-area property, hunting for her grandmother’s ashes, dumbfounded at a melted camera lens, and assessing the destruction of tapes of early video work for a Canadian broadcaster. It’s all rising to the surface.

“It’s very traumatic,” she said. “Part of this is to learn from that and reflect.”

Now, she’s hoping others can benefit from the growth her series represents.

“In order to move through, you just don’t sweep it under,” she said, recounting how the poem came to her fully formed, while the photo selection took longer. “Each one is to inspire something. That’s part of the healing process.”

Mariah Roberts, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz County Parks, said the panels echo the phase many displaced residents are in right now, as debris clearing has largely finished and new homes can start to go up.

“The intention of this installation is to offer a place that is meaningful and supportive,” she said. “People just really need some wellness experiences.”

Marilyn Marzell and Patti Maxine, Felton residents who were evacuated for 10 days during the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, enjoy the new art at the local library. — Drew Penner/Press Banner

During the fire, the group (the nonprofit complement to the county’s parks department) was asked to help evacuees at Kaiser Permanente Arena navigate the confusing array of emergency resources.

Later, when an anonymous donation came in, Roberts reached out to Dave Reid in the County’s new Office of Response, Recovery & Resilience to find out where the money—described as large enough to have an impact, but too small for any serious rebuilding—could help most.

Reid suggested the nonprofit do something like the Carlos Campos-designed Art Hike Challenge that was recently installed at Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville, so displaced residents would have a place to go to get away from all the paperwork and daily struggles.

And while fire survivors are at the forefront, everyone is invited to view the work, Roberts added.

“It’s really nice to reflect at this moment in time,” she said. “It’s been a very humbling experience.”

Now the group is gearing up for its next show, a collaborative parks-based effort opening simultaneously in Watsonville, Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and Capitola on June 19.

Marilyn Marzell, 73, attended the Felton exhibit with her partner of 38 years, Patti Maxine, 82. The local residents were evacuated for 10 days, as flames crept to within a half-mile of their home.

“In addition to Covid, it was just another blow to our community,” Marzell said while explaining the frantic rush to gather important documents in preparing for the worst. “We did have overnight to prepare.”

Marzell says she’s happy to see the library offering a vibrant space for peaceful contemplation.

“I’m thrilled that this library park can be utilized for people to gather,” she said. “It’s just another sign of us returning to normalcy.”

Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson stopped off with an aide on the way to see post-fire recovery efforts in Boulder Creek.

“It’s so sad to see what happened,” he said. “But it’s so inspiring to see the response.”

Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson visited the Felton show on the way to check on fire recovery efforts in Boulder Creek. — Drew Penner/Press Banner

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