After the Wildfires

After the fires, tend the garden


The rippling effects of the recent wildfires in Northern California are being felt by most of us as we hear and see the stories, feel the suffering of people in so many communities, and remember the discomfort of smoky air and apprehension. Many of us made donations in the immediate aftermath. Many of us are helping clients, students or friends who have lost loved ones, homes, and/or jobs.  And the need for reconstruction and healing will go on for a longer time, well past the current news cycle.

As therapists, we are empathic and trained to help others. This can be harder when we are compromised with our own grief, fear, or are overloaded. When we feel “burned out”, who cares for us and how do we care for ourselves?  In the spirit of caring for those who have been closest to the disaster, a group of NCRSS members will be meeting on November 18th to learn Hakoniwa, a group sandplay model developed in Japan and used following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. We are making contacts with schools in Sonoma County and will offer Hakoniwa to teachers and staff who are serving children and families in the fire regions.

Hakoniwa translates as “miniature garden”.  Here small groups are invited to create a collective, symbolic image in a barren landscape - a new world in box with sand. How important it is to remember that cycles of destruction and creation are intrinsically related. This summer I visited the lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii - where villages and homes were buried, leaving no trace. The expanse of gray lava seemed endless, yet here and there were islands of trees that the lava river left green and untouched. It is from these lava gardens that seeds are blown and take root in the volcanic sand, starting with tiny ferns.  Seeing these spots of green not far from the smoking lava felt miraculous and uplifting.

With Hakoniwa, we hope to bring seeds of the imagination to fertile soil where new life and hope can emerge from devastation.

Ellen Searle LeBel

Thanks to our Board members and participating members of the Northern California Regional Sandplay Society. For further information, email or call 707-826-7900.