by Deena Metzger
Who is La Vieja? When writer Deena Metzger first began to receive “inexplicable communications” from La Vieja, she knew very little about her. Over time it became clear that the old woman was a seer, seemingly real, but spirit-like, who had taken permanent residence in a fire lookout tower in the Sierras of California. Her watch there took on a great significance in this time of climate destruction, pandemic, and the possibility of the extinction of the natural world. There, La Vieja’s senses began to sharpen, turning toward a greater connection with the intelligence of the natural world, including the bears and the surrounding trees. Two other characters emerged from this contact: Lucas, a doctor who also loves to retreat to a little-used fire tower, and Léonie, a librarian/stonemason who has a lifelong dreaming connection to the Bears. The two meet and fall in love, and retreat to a similar forest world as their story becomes entwined with the world of La Vieja in an overlapping of realities. Part dream, part real, part memoir, Metzger’s La Vieja blurs the boundaries between human consciousness and animal consciousness, of imagination and reality, to create a “Journal of Fire,” a recording of the process of living with the constant threat of the destruction of the natural world. And yet, it finds hope by making new connections that lead us toward a liberation from human domination, toward renewal and a vision of the future where humans and the natural world are integral parts of a whole, intermingling and interdependent, where human nature and animal nature are inclusive of each other.