It's been 23 days since the start of the Caldor Fire. Up here on the mountain where so many of us moved to live in clean air, amid the majesty of towering pines, life took an unwelcome (yet not unexpected) turn. We went from watching for deer grazing on someone's summer garden, bears sampling the delights of garbage cans, and the occasional mountain lion slinking through someone's yard to closing windows to air quality that was hazardous to breathe and, finally, evacuation from an active fire.
Returning home about three weeks later, some of us got lucky and tackled minor problems – dead refrigerators with rotting food and layers of ash covering every outdoor surface, wilted vegetable gardens we'd planted in the spring. But so many others lost their homes and remain refugees from the rural life they knew and loved. For them, there's no coming home to clean up and move on.
How we handle destruction and displacement is a personal matter – and may be related to the severity of trauma that we suffer. Me? Well, I kept busy and tried to do something productive every day. Writing for you each week has helped a great deal – and getting your emails is therapy that no one could buy. But when we headed back up the hill to resettle, I felt something stirring inside, and when we stopped for gas at a local station, I witnessed the same happening with someone else. A fire vehicle was parked at a nearby pump, and a woman waiting for her tank to fill walked up to the truck and thanked the three firefighters inside. They responded by saying how much they appreciate the support of the people they serve. She then touched the dusty red paint on the truck's door. "Thank you. Thank you from the very depth of our souls," she said, sobbing through the moment. "I'm sorry," she said, "I'm not usually a crier."
And that simple statement touched the protected part of me. We want to feel. Need to feel. Yet must stand strong to believe and survive. The feelings bubble to the surface in unexpected ways, and we must acknowledge that life as we knew it has changed. And that's sad, concerning, and necessary if we are to remain compassionate human beings.
In California, official fire season started in September (after the Caldor fire had started) and lasts throughout the fall – often to November. California is a tinder box this year. Bone dry. Those of us who have already endured an active fire know that we cannot relax. We have to think about once again rifling through our homes and choosing what we cannot lose, and saying goodbye to the rest as we pull away to safety. From now till our first rain or dusting of snow, we hold our collective breath.
The experience of evacuation and abandoning the precious artifacts of our lives is never forgotten, as Joy, one of my readers, shared. "Last year, my husband and I had to evacuate our home of over forty years due to fires here in Oregon. There was little time to decide what to take and what to leave. The cat and dogs were our first concern, then birth certificates and other important documents," she wrote. "…. With horses, a cow, and calf, chickens, dogs, and cats, it was a mad scramble to design a plan to protect all the living things and ourselves. Each time we located a route away from the fires, it closed. That was the longest day and night of my life."
Ironically, Joy was no stranger to fire. "I was a volunteer firefighter for 27 years," she said. "Wildfire is a whole different animal than structure fires. I understand house fires and the like, but wildfire tends to have a demon of it's own. We humans can't usually stand against a monster."
And Joy offered some advice based on experience. "Be nice to yourself and don't expect more than you can reasonably deal with just now. Don't dwell on the things left behind if you can avoid it. That will only increase your anxiety." Today, Joy's son is fighting the fires on the Kiwi Complex in Oregon, and she asks us to keep him and others in our thoughts. "Perhaps when you feel anxious, you will consider praying for all those men and women on fires. … They have been away from home for extended periods of time," she says. "Mentally, the burdens they are carrying this year are back-breaking.”
Because this is the world we've made due to unsound forestry practices, more natural disasters have already descended. A growing fire in our treasured Sequoia trees in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park is now a fire-fighting priority. I remember when I lived near those gems in the forest – then touted as nearly immune from wildfires. But not from those we are now seeing – hotter, bigger, and angrier than ever before. The majestic General Sherman Tree dominated the forest for up to 2,700 years and is widely touted as the "largest living thing on Earth." Today, it’s threatened.
Already more than 1.54 million acres of forests have been charred, and fire season has only begun. Southern California is on high watch because legendary Santa Ana and Diablo winds blow hard in the fall. One fire captain said those winds will be pushing flames "like a freight train."
So, in America's West, we wait for time to pass – for gentle rains. For winter. But most importantly, we wait for a plan to repair a damaged earth that's sending us all a loud and urgent message. Will we wake up, listen, and act? Roll up our sleeves, change, and sacrifice before there's no turning back?
Caldor Stats: Size: 219,267 acres / Containment: 68% / First Responders injured: 16
Thank you for sticking with me through our trials. I value your attention and your time. Knowing how you feel and what you think gives me renewed hope and determination to weather our storms.
That an author hasn't been picked up by a big publisher is not a comment on the value and quality of their work - it's a matter of business as usual, connections, money, and time an author has to bang on closed doors to get attention. Here's this weeks recommended free or discounted indie written books:
Fresh Brew by Verena DeLuca - A Coffee fueled cozy mystery, brewed by a snarky cat!
Reviewed by Jessica: An adorable and amusing beginning to a series. Great characters who I feel like I know already.
Subway (Part 2) (Detective Lagarde Series) - by Clara Lewis -
Reviewed by Linda: When Detective Angelina LaGarde and her partner Jerry are assigned the case of a murdered girl found in the subway, she's given free rein to run the case her way. However, as more bodies appear in other subway lines, her superior pulls in the reins and forces them to stop investigating clues that are promising. Why ?