Some of you may recall that I'm in the thick of a very big, very expensive community project. For the past year, I've been sculpting panels for a bronze memorial to honor the people and organizations that saved thousands of homes from being consumed by the 2021 Caldor Fire. Like our neighbors, we were evacuated and, after three weeks, returned to our sooty but safe house. And I was overwhelmed by what it took to defeat one of the state's largest wildfires – from professional firefighters to law enforcement, air support, and countless volunteers. I felt an overwhelming inspiration to express our collective gratitude with a permanent, public monument – a bronze sculpture.
From then on, most of my time has been spent sculpting the Tribute to the Heroes of Caldor. For the first several months, I worked in my backyard studio, making clay images in relief on large wood panels. This was obsessive fun for me – zero complaints about the creative journey I've been on. Last spring, I started my fundraising and marketing campaign – this, my friends, has been the opposite of fun. Until this week, that is. I'd applied for five big grants - received one devastating refusal from a local foundation and heard nothing from any of the others. Then an email from Northern California's biggest power company arrived, and I held my breath. I'd asked Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for $5000 and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the donation had been granted. I'm still reeling in gratitude as I write this to you.
That single donation restored my enthusiasm and belief in the value of the project that, as a bronze monument, will stand on the main street of our small town for many generations to come. It will tell the story of courage, determination, and the strength of community long after the fire that consumed 225,000 acres is distant history. And it will remain a reminder of our responsibility to care for and nurture forest environments that are vital to life on Earth.
I've received donations from folks in my community and from friends near and far. Among the most touching was a generous check from Bruce – my first boyfriend, junior high school, Winona, Minnesota. A friend I've not seen for almost 60 years. Folks from our Rural county also contributed, and it's adding up to an amount that keeps me encouraged. Altogether, it's now nearly half the cost of casting the panels at a foundry. I now know I can make this project of a lifetime happen.
And I'm looking back on those months of begging, creating marketing materials, and spending most of my time in front of a keyboard rather than in my studio as a necessary (but painful) part of the process. The PG&E grant sets me free from much of that.
But I also learned a lesson from the one day I spent wallowing in pity and despair when I did not get the local grant I'd applied for from a source directly impacted by the Caldor Fire. I'd felt confident about receiving the foundation's help.
After receiving the news, I sat at the island in our kitchen, hunched over one of the panels, pushing balls of clay around. And little by little, my head hung lower, and finally, I had to stop with the clay and just wallow in self-pity. I was there till after 5 pm when my husband stopped his work, and our dogs demanded their nightly outing. We walked; I dragged my feet like a zombie. But on that stroll, I also looked up at the 100-foot pine trees reaching up to the last light in the sky. I knew that I wouldn't give up – too many kind people had already invested in my dream. That was my first positive thought of the day.
Back home with satisfied pups enjoying their dinner and me sipping a glass of wine, an uninvited, small ray of light crept into that very dark day. Within minutes it morphed into a plan. A plan to make my expectation of the project realistic. Achievable. I modified the size of the monument, cutting the cost in half. I started sketching and revising and, by bedtime, substituted the day's gloom with boom!
With persistence, we'll have the Caldor Tribute standing next to the historic 50 Grand Restaurant on Pollock Pines' Pony Express Trail (and, yes, it once was that storied trail) - appropriately across the street from the county fire station and local shopping that attracts locals and thousands of tourists every year. A perfect site!
The images I've included here are still in progress but represent the message I want to impart. The next step is making a mold, then pouring wax and finishing the wax pieces before hauling it all off to the bronze foundry – where all the expensive production work happens. You can read about those steps on my website .
It's a process that's thousands of years old and still feels like magic.
I'm enthusiastically back in the ring – after a blow that brought me down but didn't knock me out. Resilience rules!
For those of you in the USA – I hope your Thanksgiving was all you wanted it to be. And for my friends and readers beyond our borders – I hope you’ll send me a note about what important holidays you’re anticipating! Thanks to you all for sticking with me – you keep me aware of the diversity and beauty on planet Earth.