Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Twenty-Two Months Since the Four Mile Canyon Fire
“I fell into a burning ring of fire.
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher.
And it burned, burned, burned, the ring of fire.
The ring of fire.”
Hello Dear Friends,
I know Johnny Cash was writing a song about Hell when he wrote those words, and Hell is not a word often associated with Colorado. But these past two weeks have been hellish, to say the least. It feels like the whole state is burning, and that we are surrounded by a ring of fire and destruction.
The names of these terrible fires ring in my head – the Lower North Fork Fire, the High Park Fire, the Crystal Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire. Last weekend I decided I’d had enough of fire and smoke, and rented a small cabin on a stream, near the town of Leadville. Believe it or not, I’d been there only one day when the Treasure Fire broke out and a column of smoke appeared on the ridge above the cabin. I threw everything in the car and went back to Boulder. I thought, “Sheesh! I just should have gone to see my friends Rusty and Kaye in Estes Park.” And the next day, 23 homes burned to the ground in Estes Park. My friends’ home was not among them, thank God.
And then two days later, I was up with the guys working at the new house, and we watched lighting strike just a few miles away. We all gaped in horror as a column of smoke and flame appeared across the ridge. I turned to the guys and said, “I gotta tell ya, this does NOT make me happy.”
Watching the fire blow up and start to eat the mountainside made me feel sick. And it also made me realize that Nellie was at home alone down in town. I threw my stuff in the car and drove down the mountain, fighting the urge to panic. “I’m okay,” I told myself. “The fire is miles from the house.” And then I remembered what I thought when I first heard about the Four Mile Canyon Fire – “Oh, that’s miles from my house. Nothing to worry about.”
On the way home, I called my kind and wonderful friend Linda, and said, “Hi there. I need a babysitter. Want to come over for dinner?” She cheerfully agreed to pick up some Chinese food and come over, and shortly after I got home, she arrived, food in tow, and Nellie was wildly happy to see her. When I let her in, acrid smoke poured in the front door, and I slammed it behind her. The wind had changed. The fire was still miles away, but now blowing in our direction. Deep breath, do not panic.
Living through disaster has taught me to ask for help when I need it, and to never pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. And, of course, to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a phrase I have clung to for the past two years.
Linda and I cranked up the air conditioning, checked the Office of Emergency Management website about every two minutes, and watched the fire through the sliding glass doors as we ate. We talked about how tired we were of fire, of talking about fire, and seeing fire, and smelling smoke for weeks on end. How sick we feel for the people who have lost homes in just these past few weeks. And then I looked at Linda and said, “STUPID fire! Tricksy fire! We hates fire, we do, Hobbit!” and she cracked up. Then Linda said, “Why aren’t there a hundred helicopters up there fighting this fire? Why aren’t there a MILLION!? Or a BILLION! Stupid budgets.” Then we sighed, and ate our basil eggplant chicken, and gave thanks to the Goddess of Chlorofluorocarbons for our ozone-destroying but lung-saving air conditioning.
Linda went home, and the next day I went back up to the house, and another storm blew through, but this time, it brought rain. Not just a sprinkle, but forty-five minutes of pouring, gully-washing, cold, sopping RAIN. Again, everyone stopped work to look across the ridge, but this time it was to watch the rain put out most of the fire. We stood out in the pouring rain – the trim carpenters, the cabinet maker, the electricians, the mason working on the fireplace, the contractor, the granite installers, and me. We cheered the rain, we hooted and hollered and clapped and said, “Go rain! Put out that fire!” It was a glorious, wet, thunderous celebration. And then the clouds cleared, and everyone went back to work.
Today there were more thunderstorms, more lightning strikes, and blessedly, more rain. We had our first inspection on the house, and that means that with a few corrections and a re-inspection, I will actually be able to go home, for real, in less than two weeks. The reality of it hasn’t hit me yet, as I’m still pretty distracted by this Ring of Fire that is currently Colorado. Every day I think of the new sorrows facing people – thousands of them at the time of this writing – who have just lost their homes and all their precious treasures. And I wonder how I can help. I hope I can share with them what I have felt, and learned, and experienced, over these past two years. I hope they can find this blog, and that it will bring them just a moment of comfort, a voice of reassurance in these darkest of hours.
So I am okay. I refuse to let fear run my life. I stare at the pillar of smoke out the window and say, out loud, “You and I know each other all too well, but you are not the boss of me.” I can’t predict or control the wind, the flames, or the future, but whatever happens, I will take it as it comes. I will cry, and fuss, and keep breathing. I will ask for help and keep trying to help others. For as my father was so fond of saying, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” If I can ease the heartache of others, even just a little, then it makes it all worthwhile.
Right now Nellie is curled up beside me, the “Fire Boxes,” containing my birth certificate, my backup hard drive, my little bit of new jewelry - are loaded into the car, in case we have to evacuate. And you know, I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who actually has a paper receipt, filed in chronological order, for every single thing she now owns. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
Tonight I think I’ll order some sushi delivered, because one of the miracles of living in town is that someone will actually cook food and bring it to your door. We mountain folk are not used to such luxuries. So I’ll have some sushi sent over, and I’ll mix the hot wasabi with the salty soy sauce. And I’ll dip the sweet fish and rice into it, and it will rush into my mouth and burn, burn, burn, and at the same time, be absolutely delicious. Kind of like life.
Sending you lots of love, and wishes for sweet dreams,