I wanted to write about so many other things, but I couldn’t. I was there in Sebastopol with my family when the fire broke out. It had been such a sweet Sunday with a barbeque. So beautifully warm. Balmy evening—so rare in West County, Sonoma. And then a delicious strong warm wind which quickened our hearts. It reminded me of the massive winds in the movie CHOCOLATE—portentous. We sang until 1:00 in the morning. Going to bed I looked out the window. Something was different about the sky. A subtle, glowing haze in the far north. Mmmmm, maybe a small fire.
In the morning I walked to the kitchen. Solemnity masked a frisson of fear. “The kids came to wake us up and we said it was too dark outside. It’s not time. We looked at our watches. The kids were right. The sun looked like the moon.”
There were scraps of burnt paper collected from outside. One was about 4 inches square, a remnant from a mortgage document blown in from Healdsburg. My son-in-law said he had witnessed many fires in Australia. When the land was this dry, all it took was one spark. You must know: my son-in-law is not an alarmist.
Outside. Ashes everywhere and more bits of paper. Erie yellow light reminiscent of sunset—except it wasn’t. Later others described it as feeling like “Armageddon.” Our animal bodies knew something was wrong.
What are the roads like? Could we even drive? Traffic was bumper to bumper. Would it take hours? Would it be safe? Did we have enough gas? The air started getting better and so we waited. Waited. Hard not knowing what was best. Then the air got worse. Decision made. We left.
The drive home was not that bad, but then the harder part came.
Many many many fires. They could not stop them. Houses upon houses incinerated to the ground. Fire safes melted. One friend’s house gone. All that was left was one blackened necklace. She and her family had barely made it out. Another friend’s house was 1 mile from the evacuated areas. People left anyway because the smoke was so bad.
Acres upon acres burned. Places we loved. Places in danger. Shock and Waiting…. Would more friends loose their homes, die? Would we loose our family home? Reading every text message from the emergency team to know what was happening. Tension in every beeping text as it came in night and day for days. Fire. Fire. Fire. No containment. No containment. More winds. More high temperatures.
Then shock again to realize how bad the smoke was in San Francisco. We had to wear masks on certain days. Day after day smoke.
I prayed for colder weather.
And now the more amorphous part. I was not there long but I was still traumatized. The first week I was dizzy, eyes hurt, had sleepless nights along with being drugged by sleep. I walked around in a daze forgetting everything. Sometimes not knowing what day it was. Foggy brain. The second week it all continued. The more I talked to people everywhere the more I realized I was not alone.. Everyone looked dazed. Everyone knew people who were touched by the destruction. Everyone had favorite visiting places that may be ruined or are threatened by future fires. The suddenness, the river of fire, the vastness of it coming on the heels of a perfect day.
And the grieving: crying for the loss of so many people’s homes and land near my home town. Crying for the loss of places I loved. Landmarks, eateries, schools. I still don’t know if the woods around Lake Elsanjo have been destroyed. Crying for the loss of people, animals, trees, plants… But there was a grief I could not reach. Then I faced it: the unswallowable behemouth of HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of acres torched. The scourged land was crying. I could feel it. I could feel it and I could feel our people’s burned connection to it.
To feel is to unfreeze, to shift, to move, to let go, to go forward.
A good place to donate is the Redwood Empire Food Bank.