Up here, where a forest fire drove entire communities from their homes nine months ago, we’re approaching warming weather and dire predictions of extreme dangers throughout the summer. Nonetheless, most of us have settled back in – maybe in denial based on a flawed belief that lightning can’t strike twice. Our neighborhood trees have erupted with optimistic green. Purple irises stand like beauty queens, and California gold poppies shout enthusiastically from the hillsides.
As I write this, I look out through tall pines at a brilliant blue eastern sky – the same view that was billowing charcoal clouds of smoke last August – a sighting that sent us fleeing to safety in the valley and toting everything we felt necessary and important from our mountain home.
Spring also sings to us with the songs of birds returning from their winter homes – I’ve got a blue jay nest tucked under the eaves of my house. I’ve watched the pair make a nest worthy of an architect, protect their eggs for weeks, and just yesterday, I saw the tiny beaks of two fledglings pop up from their straw and twig castle. Snow white blossoms on the dogwoods have opened wide to the sun and, like them, we’ve embraced a season that brings both threat and promise to all of us who returned home from the fire anxious, afraid and uncertain.
But dozens of residents in the realm of the Caldor Fire have chosen to flee forever. Loud and bright ‘For Sale’ signs decorate our winding streets. The homes are selling in record time, but many are purchased by folks wealthy enough to buy vacation homes and visit only when sunshine and safety are forecast.
Most of us have taken short trips into our beloved high country – places where peaked mountains cradle small glaciers year-round. Where we go hiking into wilderness solitude and breathe air untainted by human inventions. But much of that precious environment bears the raw scars of the Caldor Fire, reminding us that nature does not bounce back as fast as humankind. My neighbor, Nicki, who has lived up here for decades, chose last weekend to jump on her motorbike and visit places she and her family have cherished for decades. She posted her observations on FaceBook and captured the charred landscape left by the fire that swept through Mother Nature’s finest work:
“Everyone up here endured the Caldor Fire in their own way. We spent 18 days in a ‘drug’ apartment in Sacramento while we waited for news of our safe haven, our home, our beloved forest and our ski mountain. We bought our first home together here when we married … our babies were born and raised here. The fire raged on, indiscriminately. Everyone lost some. Some lost all.
MET (Mormon Emigrant Trail) opened today. For 24 years, it has been our gateway to adventure and our sacred coming-home. I saw the destruction alone, on my bike, for the first time today on a solo ride through this land that I love. It’s hard to put into words the guttural loss of the heartbeat of our forest. Many have posted photos of the moonscape that remains. I chose not to look at those photos but to see it in my own time with my own eyes. And I choose not to post my own gaping panoramic photos of the loss that reverberates in my soul …. for you will all see it in your own time, with your own eyes. You all … will try, just like I am today, to imagine a time in our lifetime when the woods will riot with a color that is not dead, and the trees will grow and hold new life. In the meantime, you might cry buckets, and it’s ok. I did, and through tears come healing and, eventually, the newness of rebirth that, in its own time, will seem like the magic of what you never knew was missing. But today it’s hard to picture … and it’s hard to process … and that’s ok, too.”
Nicki has the power to evoke a range of emotions – from tears to gales of laughter. She writes uncensored, from the heart. And in this post, she captured what keeps us up here despite history, and aware of dire predictions of what’s to come. It’s undiminished hope. Untethered connection to place and sacred memories. The sounds of scrambling squirrels and night sightings of mountain lions, bear, and deer. Nothing to be afraid of;
so we remain. We believe in the shimmering of light through the dogwoods. The forever cascade of stars that dance in our inky night sky. The quiet that’s punctuated by bird songs and music made by wind through towering cedars. Despite the fire that drove us away last fall and threatens us on the cusp of another summer, it’s all still here for us to know as home.
Thanks for reading and staying with me on my near-weekly journeys. I really appreciated the feedback from people about their own experiences with convalescent homes – and how they, too, were able to find moments of joy with folks inside their walls. Please send me your thoughts and observations. I love hearing from you – email@example.com
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