This was the view from our front porch one year ago, with a fire burning out of control and heading toward us. Wildfires were burning all over California, a few of them worse than ours, but it's always difficult to focus on each other's struggles when we're in the middle of a crisis of our own, isn't it?
On a Sunday afternoon, we heard that a fire had been started a few miles from our house, in the beautiful wild area that we've always affectionately referred to as "our canyon." It was headed away from us, and we only hoped that the canyon wouldn't be completely burned up, and prayed for the safety of the few who live there. On Monday morning, Greg called me from work and said we'd better start packing up, as the fire was now headed back toward us. I have to admit that I chastised him for making a big deal out of nothing, until I looked into it a bit more and realized we were really in the fire's path and were under "voluntary evacuation." Within hours, our most precious things were packed in the trunks of our cars, as neighbors scurried back and forth from home to trunk, gathering their necessities, too.
Have you ever packed up your home for an evacuation? It's a very surreal experience. I vividly recall walking into room after room, glancing around and thinking to myself, "Nope. Nothing in here needs to go." Can you imagine? We have a large house, but we're pretty frugal and don't have a lot of unnecessary things, so I thought. Yet that Monday, as I looked through closet after closet, I found myself realizing that the things we'd accumulated were not really that important to us. It still seems bizarre to me, one year later.
What I did pack was lots of scrapbooks, a favorite dog-eared book that helped me through a hard time, some small boxes of sentimental letters, several quilts and a few framed photographs. Social security cards. The computer's hard drive. Cd's full of photos. That's about it. I packed everything precious to us, and it didn't even fill up my trunk.
We spent a week with all of these treasures in our cars, and the fire did come within a half mile of our house, only one major street and a bunch of brush separating us. The firefighters successfully used that street as a firebreak, and finally after a week of worry and firewatching from our street and online, we felt confident enough to unpack our trunks.
When I think back to the emotions that stirred in us that week, I remember us coming together as neighbors, watching the fire helicopters dip over and over into the reservoir behind our houses (oh, what a thrill for little boys!), the helping hands for a neighbor whose husband was serving in Iraq at the time, and most of all, the realization that we sure do have a lot of junk. I made several trips to the donation truck after it was over, and I'm thinking it's about time to do a major "dejunking" like that again, one year later.
A few weeks after it was out, we drove down our winding road, where Jake cried, "Somebody broke our beautiful canyon!" The ash and smoke remained in our clothes and homes for several weeks. At Easter, we go to a pancake breakfast at a little country firehouse in that same canyon, where we saw the faces of those who fought the fire, those who lost homes to the fire, and those who were and still are rebuilding. And now, one year later, the grasses have returned, the fields are yellow, and it's only the blackened trunks that remind us of a year ago. Although the canyon is renewed and the emotions fade, I'm hoping to hang onto the lessons I learned for a little bit longer.