Emily Nathan's Tiny Atlas Quarterly Finds Life in the Fire
In the human experience, fire is a dichotomy. On one hand it brings light and heat, providing necessary utility for those who wield it. On the other, it burns. Unharnessed, the flames that lick turn to destruction as they tear through anything in their way. The final issue of Tiny Atlas Quarter in their quadrilogy of the elements, Fire, has released with Emily Nathan at the helm. The issue examines how fire plays in our lives, and the lead story was shot by Emily herself, an examination of Point Reyes, California. The current fires tearing their way across California are a natural result form the record droughts, and they’ve created that same destruction, but in years that aren’t as dire as this, the fires still burn. In fact, they’re a part of the ecosystem in the western United States. That process is disguised as destruction, but is really a refreshment for the land, an essential part that makes the world function as it does, a unique and necessary feature to that way of life.
Point Reyes is one of the locations in California where fires are crucial to the ecosystem. Before the time of recorded history, lightning strikes started these fires but as the Coast Miwok moved into the land they also harnessed the cleansing power of fire to help the life in the area thrive. Plants like the Bishop pine, that feature in some of Emily’s imagery, require fire for their lifecycle. It is the intense heat that encourages the trees to release their seeds that thrive in the soil refreshed by the flames, and for a tree whose existence is threatened by their small numbers, the fire is crucial. This land, burned and born thousands of times over, wakes up after the tiny deaths brought by the flames and begins again.
Emily’s story imagines what you would see as you visit Point Reyes, paired with illustrations by Sharon Hwang to fill out the experience. Every issue of Tiny Atlas is about carrying the experience of travel to the viewer in a way that is casual and comfortable rather than the idolatry of excess. The voyages continue through the issue with other stories including one in Mayanmar, where hot air balloons are lofted into the air with fire, and another in the Kalihari desert whose incredible heat feels like stepping into flame. To catch the full issue, and to see the world through fire’s lens, check out the latest issue of Tiny Atlas Quarterly online.