Antlers on Fire

Some Images just haunt me. Like the one of a buck with his antlers on fire. I don’t know where I saw it, an ad maybe. The thing is that just the week before, after many years, I had watched Bambi again. I can still see Bambi’s father, the Prince of the Forest, standing on a bluff watching over the forest, over his herd. His many-pointed antlers are a testament to his regal power, and establish him as leader and protector. Because he has seen many things in his life, he warns the others to beware of humans, for they are the most dangerous of all animals. Now the forest is burning, the animals fleeing for their lives. Not even he can save them.  I imagine his antlers on fire. What would it mean to have one’s antlers on fire? Is it urgent? Or panicked? Does it discredit his leadership? Or is it amazingly powerful to blaze with that which can destroy you.


I go frequently to forests for healing, peace. Recently I went camping alone. Awed by the lush layers and shades of green; the beauty of the evergreens dripping with rain; the hush, so quiet I could hear the gentlest breeze moving through the trees, my soul settled into deep stillness. As I pulled my tent out from the trunk, a deer stopped at my car; we stood curious and looked at each other for a minute before she moved on to drink from the river. So much beauty, so many gifts from our earth. 


But fires burn the Amazon, Siberia, India, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alaska, Montana, Utah, Washington, Kentucky, British Columbia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, Indonesia, Italy; the list goes on. Some of these forests are burned deliberately to create more farm/ranch land. Three billion animals died in Australia, 17 million in Brazil. No one knows how many more around the world.  And even when I get completely still, I cannot hear the sound of my heart breaking. Bambi’s father is right.


Rage or despair…neither is enough. How to be with this?!




Some images make me want to cry, throw up. Like the one in Underground Railroad of an enslaved man, after being whipped until his skin is peeling off, set on fire while still alive and screaming, as plantation owners sit across from him eating their lunch. 


Images of Black folks being assaulted by dogs and fire hoses, batons, rocks, bottles and numerous other projectiles filled the TV news of my childhood. Cringing as I watched hate-filled faces of white crowds jeering, cursing children integrating Southern schools; hot coffee dumped over Black people’s heads for reasons I could not understand. Communities burned. 


And now again fires burn our cities. In the streets of Portland, Minnesota, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, LA, Memphis, Louisville, San Jose, San Francisco, riots flame. Another (and another and another) Black person has been killed by police. Internal fires erupt and things and places and communities burn. Despite—or maybe because of—diving deep into educating myself about causes and conditions, my jaws tighten, my stomach churns as if paddling through a rough ocean; tears and rage burn… for all of us.  But that’s not good enough. How to be with this?!  I don’t know how to be with this.


What is it like to be burned alive? What must be destroyed inside in order to set someone on fire, over and over and over?  


Psychologist Carl Jung named that which is denied, hidden, refused to be looked at–positive and negative — our shadow. Do Black folks function as white people’s “shadow” because we aren’t courageous enough to accept in ourselves the vast range of what we humans are capable of? To own who we have been and continue to be?  Does the gap between our self-image and who we actually are seem too wide to bridge?  I wonder.


James Baldwin from The Fire Next Time: 

“…White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never –the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” 


Why is loving ourselves so hard?


Facing our deepest truths –whether personal, societal, or collective—surely requires an immense amount of courage, again and again. Ashamed of what we find at times, yet we also discover unexpected nuggets of gold, strength, creativity, wisdom, compassion, authenticity, forgiveness, freedom, peace.  


From The Fire Next Time: “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”




Some images make me humble. Like a row of elders sitting outside in wheelchairs watching their home, an assisted living facility, burn down. Next to them is a young man who ran in and pulled many of them out, saving their lives.


I went to my favorite bakery today to buy a loaf of bread. As I got out of my car, I saw a homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk with a small fire burning next to her. I wasn’t sure how the fire was built but it looked contained and there was no apparent danger. I called across to her, “You’re being careful, right?” “Yeah don’t worry” or something like that, and I continued toward the bakery, just as an employee came out with a pitcher of water to douse the fire. Within a few minutes a fire truck also arrived. Others stood and watched. As I drove away later, I wondered about the four different responses and– given that I didn’t know either the pitcher of water nor that the fire department were coming– if I had done enough.


Sometimes spineless is glaringly obvious, but more often it’s an accumulation of (non)responses that build up slowly over time to SPINELESS.  It seems to me the same is true in the opposite direction, in developing a spine.


The forests are burning; cities are burning. Fear and cruelty seem to now be walking hand-in-hand. The world is on fire. My heart is on fire. Helplessly I see-saw between rage ->despair->rage->despair. How to be with this! Neither of these extremes is effective in creating positive change and there are so many problems…yet so many opportunities. 


When a bicyclist got hit by a car, one of my friends approached and offered this stranger her hand in comfort, talking softly while they waited together for an ambulance. Another friend in another country, seeing a boy laying on the ground, found some food and coins for him. They automatically responded with compassion when they saw someone in need; I envy their lack of hesitancy. Yet they speak to me.


In the everyday interactions that make up my “new normal” can I be present with an open heart? Can I be brave enough to allow that open heart to guide me? Or will I hesitate unsure, wait for someone else, can’t be bothered, have my own stuff to deal with, afraid of what might happen, of what people might say? There isn’t an always or never, just unique moments that matter, that will show me who I am, like it or not, as well as shape me into who I want to be…purposefully making my way toward developing a spine. 


Antlers on fire. Some images do haunt me. What does it mean to have antlers on fire? I guess it depends on whether you are the buck, bystander, witness, or hold a bucket of water in your hands.


Yolanda Wysocki

Yolanda Wysocki is an emerging writer of creative nonfiction, although she still occasionally writes poetry as well. She recently had an essay published in The Writing Disorder; another in Stories That Need to be Told 2022. Retired from Social Services, Counseling, and Life Coaching, she is committing her time to creative pursuits, meditation, and other interests. She has an MA in the Study of Human Consciousness.

Invitation To A Word