Some of you know about my mega-project – creating a large bronze sculpture to honor the people and organizations that selflessly fought the ravages of the Caldor Fire last fall. Firefighters, law enforcement, thousands of volunteers, and community organizations rose to defend and offer comfort. My husband and i, along with our dogs, were evacuated from our home under the pines. We rushed to pack up a few precious things and headed for the Sacramento Valley, where we stayed for more than three weeks. From there, I wrote several blogs about the firefight as we tracked the fire that threatened thousands of homes. As a former news reporter, I was able to reach many agencies actively involved in efforts to control the fire, protect abandoned properties and provide shelter for evacuees – and share their stories with you.
Those conversations led to an awareness of people whose courage and kindness demonstrated humans at their best. So many of those ‘everyday heroes’ will never be acknowledged for their compassion and selfless acts. I’ve been lucky enough to bring a few of those stories to you, and just last week, I ran across yet another. With so much bad news delivered daily, I’m retelling this story as a reminder of our capacity to do good, to be kind.
The scene is in the sprawling forests of Lake Tahoe, where one young family made their new home – refugees from big-city life. The parents were jazzed about the quiet environment, clean air, Mother Nature’s daily gifts. Carter, their nine-year-old boy, not so much. Nothing to do. He missed his friends. And no wifi?
Problem-solving mom and dad suggested he head to the edge of the forest on their property and make himself a private hideaway. The boy took the invitation seriously – no pieces of cardboard boxes for this little man – Nope. He did some studying about construction and figured out how to make four walls that stood upright, a flat roof, and an opening for a door.
Carter built his fort right on the edge of the forest. He settled in to make the place his own and started a cottage industry by gathering and sharpening sticks to sell to hikers who passed near his sanctuary. He made a sign on an old piece of wood and hung it on the side facing the hiking path – “Sharpened sticks for Sale.”
Suddenly, life in the mountains was no longer boring. But soon, it would get all his attention as the Caldor Fire swept up the mountain to Tahoe, and evacuation orders were issued.
His parents busied themselves with rounding up necessary and treasured items from their cabin. Carter dashed out to his fort and did what he could to protect his domain. Mom went along and scrawled “Evacuated” on Carter’s sign, along with the time and date – August 30, 2021.
With fire crews and air support working 24-7 to save the iconic resources of Lake Tahoe, residents were able to return home on September 7th. Carter’s dad had earlier been told by Batallion Chief Wilson from Riverside, in distant Southern California, that their home would likely be spared from the worst of the fire. But still, Dad worried - the boy’s fort was nestled up to the forest edge.
They returned to find their property bore signs of the firefight with drag lines from hoses and the footprints of firefighters, but thankfully, their cabin was fine. Carter, however, couldn’t make himself walk to the back of the property to check out his fort. Dad took on the responsibility and was both relieved and astonished. Not only was Carter’s fort standing – it was also surrounded by a hand-dug line, just like the one protecting the family’s cabin. Firefighters had made a special effort to save the boy’s handmade shelter from the fire – including taking down two walls that made the structure more vulnerable. They’d also rolled a couple of good rounds into the space – ideal logs for seating in his son’s hideaway. But most remarkable was the handwritten note from the Riverside Batallion Chief: “Carter, I bought three of your sticks. I hope a dollar each was fair. Contact me for a cool video of helicopters dropping by your fort.”
The story of the salvaged fort spread and local firefighters from the Tahoe Douglas Fire District showed up to help the boy with clean-up. It wasn’t long before Carter had replaced the fort’s walls and added new forest-sourced furnishings to match the rounds donated by the fire crew. With confidence and purpose restored, the boy quickly looked to the immediate future, gathered up more sticks, and got prepared to do business. Winter hikers would need Carter’s sharpened sticks, and he’d be ready.
His dad shared the experience with local media – a story that highlights the power of people to do good. Looking back at how, in the midst of a crisis, firefighters and their chief from a distant city not only saved their home but also helped a nine-year-old rise above the trauma of evacuation and fear. “It made everything instantly turn back to something positive for him and our family,” his dad told a reporter from a local newspaper.
And this is how we make it through dark times. Not by drowning in tragedy and bad news, but by rising above it and doing good.
Thanks for your time and attention - and particular gratitude to the people who drop me a line about their experiences and responses. I value your input and hope we can continue to share our stories - write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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