A Lesson in the Illusion of Control, and Why We are so Thankful

Illusion of Control
Author: Lily Mazzarella
I was scheduled for major surgery in the early morning hours of October 10th, and had spent the weekend prior turning inward, preparing my mind and body and for the upcoming procedure.  So when friends banged on our front door, waking me and my partner at 5 on the morning of Monday 9th, I experienced a form of whiplash, an about-face reality check.  Our electricity was already out, smoke seeping into our drafty house from fires a few miles away.  “Wake up, we need to go.  Santa Rosa is on fire.”  Words none of us expected to ever hear.  While we are accustomed to wildfires raging throughout California, especially during the crackling-dry fall and longstanding drought, I, like most folks, assumed that living in a moderately-sized city exempted us from this kind of disaster.  But this was the fire that broke all the rules.

It reminded me that no matter how carefully we plan, the impression that we are in control of our lives and that events will unfold in an orderly fashion, is, quite simply, an illusion.

During the fires, Farmacopia experienced some dramatic, and unfortunately common, impacts.  Our dear Danielle, who has been with Farmacopia for 10 years, lost her home in the fires, and barely escaped with her life.  Dozens and dozens of our customers and clients lost homes, businesses, or were displaced.  Several of our staff and their families were evacuated.  We lost many days of sales, which, as a small business living (like many Americans) paycheck to paycheck, is a bit harrowing.  We were all exposed to incredibly noxious, toxic smoke, ash, and sediment as whole swaths of our city burned down around us.  Only one of our hospitals remained open.  For days, thousands of people were sick, terrified, and in immediate threat of uncontained fires.

An amazing thing happened, though, on the second day of the fires.  The Tuesday right after the fire, most of our staff showed up to work.  We wanted to gather, and we wanted to help.

So, we opened Farmacopia as a free holistic fire relief clinic Wednesday through Saturday after the fire and offered herbal support, nutrients, flower essences, tea, essential oil inhalations, bodywork, acupuncture, and N95 masks to all who came (we kept the clinic open as a free fire relief “station” inside the store for weeks after).  Many of our staff worked for free, and we had a dream volunteer team (one of whom brought us lunch every day!).  We estimate that about 800 people came through the clinic in that time, seeking support for headache, stress, sore throat, sinus congestion, respiratory distress, disorientation and grief.  We gave away thousands of dollars of liquid herbal medicines, nutrients, labor, and supplies.  And, as just as crucially, copious amounts of love, listening, and comfort.

Meanwhile, we began receiving herbal donations from helpers near and far, and were able to staff and support clinics at various evacuation shelters throughout the county.  Soon we started sending herbs and herbalists to support the firefighters, and the National Guard at the Petaluma and Santa Rosa armories.  We offered 4 bilingual clinics with our partners at Northbay Organizing Project.  We made countless care packages for families who had lost homes, and distributed donations to practitioners helping fire-affected folks for free or at discounted rates.  Two weeks after the start of the fires, I was lucky enough to partner with Daily Acts to teach a class on self-care for toxic stress and toxic smoke at the Sebastopol Grange.  Our naturopath, Dr. Bridget, wrote excellent blogs on how to protect self and family given the degree of exposure we faced.   3 weeks after the fire, we hosted our free, day-long Sonoma [Stay] Strong Health Event with classes, a DIY facial mask bar, plant medicines, super foods, classes, acupuncture and bodywork.  We held a silent auction which raised over $1700 for UndocuFund, which helps some of the most vulnerable in our community with economic recovery from the fires.

In this very scary time, we were able to connect with our community, hold our people tight, and BE held.  Herbalists from Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and Brooklyn sent herbal donations.  Local herbalists served up syrups to soothe raspy throats and frayed nerves.  Bigger companies, like Gaia Herbs and Traditional Medicinals came through with substantial offerings.  Flower Essence Society in Nevada City and our tincture supplier Galen’s Way in Sebastopol were true angels, giving large donations that reached thousands of people.  Some of our customers, touched by our efforts, gave unsolicited monetary donations which helped to offset our economic losses and support our efforts.  Many contributed to Danielle’s GoFundMe.

In short, the fires blew my Farmacopia world wide open, in difficult and incredibly rewarding ways.  I am grateful beyond expression for Danielle’s escape, for a staff so generous and compassionate, for the network of volunteers, collaborators, and friends who materialized through this process.  I am grateful for the plant medicines that supported me and everyone else through this disaster.  I am grateful for the power of nutrients to fuel our bodies’ detoxification pathways.  I am grateful for the incredible talents of all our practitioners who stepped up to give their expert services and comfort to literally thousands of people.

I am grateful and humbled that my business is still standing because while this experience shows that Farmacopia is so much more than its walls and computers and fabulous array of bottles, I am also aware that it is not always possible to come back from a total loss, even if your business is beloved by many.  These are tricky times for brick and mortars, and in the scheme of things I’d imagined could befall my business, a conflagration consuming Santa Rosa was not previously one of them.  I thought I was having surgery, but instead this happened; my planned medical leave allowed for participation that post-surgical recovery never could have.

My heart goes out to all of you who were affected by the fires.  I know this loss is one that will keep unfolding for months, years, and maybe generations.  The fires have changed us irrevocably.  We at Farmacopia know this isn’t over, and we are here for you.  We are continuing our efforts in community recovery and will announce further initiatives in the coming weeks.

And to everyone:  thank you for your prayers, good wishes, and support.  I can still feel them.

With love and gratitude,


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