There and Back Again

July 15th, 2012
One Year, Ten Months, and Nine Days
Since the Four Mile Canyon Fire

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

I am home. I have gone There and Back Again, and returned to my own front door, and it is all changed.

Some people think that Jerry Garcia wrote those famous lines about the road going on and on, but it was JRR Tolkien, a man who saw the horrors of World War I, who lost his true love and soul mate before her time, and who dealt with his grief and loss by telling tales of heroic little Hobbits marching steadfastly into the face of evil and conquering it – but not without a price.

Bilbo Baggins defeats a dragon and returns home with untold treasure from the dragon’s lair, but it takes its toll on him. He tells Frodo he feels, “Thin… like butter scraped over too much bread.” And Frodo, the hero of his own quest, comes home damaged and frail. He writes in his journal, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?” Frodo never really finds peace at home, and eventually sails off to the Undying Lands with the Elves.

What is home when you finally come home again? And who am I, now that I am home?

I have gone to Mordor and back again – a long, slow trudge through jagged peaks and fiery chasms, and finally made my way home to this beautiful house. I have envisioned this house, this day, for almost two years. I have worked every day for months on end, with the architect, the contractor, and dozens of trades people – going over and over the budgets, the design, the energy systems, the plumbing and electric and the thousands of details that make a home. I have been involved in every detail of building this magnificent little ship in the clouds, and yet I am a stranger to it. It is as if we have just met – we will have to get to know each other now.

And I will have to get to know my new life now. For two years I have been a refugee, a middle-class displaced person dealing with grief and loss and more change than I ever wanted to face. And now I get to be “normal” again. Not a Fire Person anymore, just a friend, neighbor, colleague… What will that be like? Is it even possible?

Once again, I am starting over. At 55, I begin again. As the Chinese say, it is a time of “Dangerous Opportunity,” a time of change and challenge and new beginnings.

I walk up to the front door, take a deep breath and open it. I am shaking hands with my new house, my new life. “Nice to meet you, ” I say, and look around. A window seat, a lovely fireplace, a spectacular view. “Wow,” I say. “I wonder who lives here?” I believe I will now find out.

I’m going to grow old here, looking at this view, writing about this place. Me and Nellie and other dogs and perhaps a true love, a best friend, my Partner in Life. Wouldn’t that be something? We will all get to know each other, and laugh and love and count down the days, and watch the sunsets each night over the mountains.

When Frodo was in the midst of Mordor, his own personal Hell, he looked up into the sky and saw stars, peeking through the darkness. “Look,” he said, “Amidst all this evil there are still stars.” Amidst all this tragedy and loss there are still stars at night, wheeling in the skies over Boulder, like ever-fixed marks, the heavenly chorus of light.

I will pass my days here, in this house, on this land, and I will keep looking up. The road goes ever on and on, and as Bilbo said, “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”       I think we will have many adventures together before we reach the end of the road, you and I.  Thanks for walking with me.

Sending you Love, and Wishes for Sweet Dreams,


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67 Responses to There and Back Again

  1. Kathy Burger , Pearl and Buck says:

    amazing journey – welcome home – enjoy it….

  2. Anne Doyle says:

    All good wishes, Andi, to you and to Nellie. Enjoy your new home–today and always!!

  3. Judy Wathen says:

    So glad you are finally home again. I have looked forward to every one of your essay’s and do not want them to come to an end. They are about so much more than a journey defined by 1year, 10 months and 9 days. I so hope that you continue to write and share your insights, thoughts, experiences as you continue your journey in your new home.

  4. Kathy Davis says:

    Hi, Andi,
    Well I see some grass and green trees in the background to your photos. Am I seeing green for real??? Who would have thought that green would replace the gray ash? I’m happy that you are home on your mountain. Kathy

    • Andi says:

      Thanks Kathy. Yes, there is green grass and trees that somehow survived the inferno and came back green. Still lots of gray ash underneath, but Life returns to the land apace! Come and visit my dear :-)

  5. Welcome home! I have loved following your journey to return home. I only hope you continue writing as I love to get lost in your words. Kristi

  6. First, congratulations. I suspect there will always be a ‘Fire Person’ part of you. Once metal (or people) are put through such a forge their very nature is different. I’m just glad to see that such an incandescent soul as yours finally has a worthy sconce. I have no doubt that adventure will come looking for you. When it does, I will be here my friend. Thanks for bringing us along on this journey and thank you for all the time and care you put into your writing, it honors your readers. Much love!!

  7. Bhanuharris says:

    Wow-such resolve! You have not only stepped into a new home, but have continued to travel the road to greater inner understanding. You seem stronger, wiser, and happier. I greatly respect you for continuing in the face of adversity. Enjoy!

    • Andi says:

      Bhanu, Thanks for all your love and support after the fire, and for your ongoing kindness. Big hug to you!

  8. Amy Katchur says:

    So happy to read this Andi, and to see the photos of your beautiful new home. Wishing you and Nellie all happiness in the sunny days and starry nights to come.

  9. Anant says:

    Beautifully written “possibly final” posting. Another gift of your journey: well-honed writing skills. All the best going forward!

    • Andi says:

      Thanks Swamiji, for reading and commenting, and for your own words of wisdom along the way. Namaste, my friend!

  10. Melanie says:

    Welcome home! Enjoy getting to know your new house!

    • Andi says:

      Thank you Melanie. When I was unpacking, I told my helper friends where each piece came from…”And these beautiful glasses are from Melanie… and this picture…” etc! Thanks for your love, kindness, and generosity, and take good care.

  11. Greg Wright says:

    Still round the corner there may wait
    A new road or a secret gate,
    And though I oft have passed them by,
    A day will come at last when I
    Shall take the hidden paths that run
    West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
    I’m so glad to know that you’ve moved in! I hope that as you get to know your new home, you’ll discover and remember all those parts of you that went into each tile, each window pane, each switchplate; the hidden places behind the walls, and the colors of the walls themselves. I hope it will be, after all, getting reacquainted with yourself.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing journey! I feel somehow, like after a really good novel, I have been changed, too.

    You’ve really ridden on the wings of the Phoenix; may you continue to ride on the wings of the crane! -g.

    • Andi says:

      I love those last lines of the poem as well – so perfect and poetic. I am flattered to know that writing and the journey have changed you as well. This writing has been a great gift, and one that I hope continues in my life, as I travel on, “west of the moon, and east of the sun….”

  12. Karen Rosga says:

    Finally! The end of one remarkable journey that no one wishes to make . . . But one that led you to a new and wonderful beginning! My heart is full of joy and hope for you, my friend, as well as full of relief that you and Miss Nellie are home and safe. I can’t tell you how proud we are of you; I have been in awe of your persistence, resilience, and ability to channel all that you have gone through into help and encouragement for others! I can’t wait to be there in September!!!


    • Andi says:

      Ah my dear, thank you so much. Nellie sends wags to all her Cousin Doggies, especially the new girl, Miss Daisy, and looks forward to seeing Autie Karen soon! Hugs and wags all around.

  13. Anastasia says:

    Oh, Andi, I am so very happy for you and Nellie!!!
    What a journey it has been – thank you for sharing it with us! Your writing is truly a gift – finding a new post on your blog is like having a lovely little present to open. Your new home looks amazing…I wish you and Nellie every happiness and joy in your new adventures high in the hills. Home at last….big hugs!

    • Andi says:

      Thank you Anastasia. I hope your own fire recovery is going well and that you have landed in a safe and lovely spot, and are making your beautiful artwork. Nellie sends wags and I send hugs back atcha.

  14. Deb Miller says:

    Congratulations, Andi! The house looks beautiful. I know it will be wonderful for you to be home again. Love the analogy with Tolkien’s work. It is so fitting. Did you see the rainbow last night? Perhaps it was there to welcome you home, just as the one we saw over the Flagstaff fire was perhaps there to tell us frightened fire people that this time it would be ok. I’m being too fanciful, I know, but the sky and land bind us to this place in some magical way. Thanks for capturing that magic in your words over the last almost two years. Please keep writing for us.

    • Andi says:

      Deb, the rainbow arced along the sky, set off by the dark grey clouds, and I saw a doe with two spotted fawns in the evening light as well. A bear ambled by the other day, and a young, calico-colored fox trotted alongside my car as I went down the hill the other day. It is so lovely to be among Nature’s creatures once again!

  15. Bryan Harding says:

    Congratulations Andi!!!! You deserve it and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with you!!!
    Bryan Harding and the entire Boulder County team

    • Andi says:

      HUGE shout out to all the folks at Boulder County for their support, encouragement, and on-the-ground help during reconstruction! Please thank everyone for me, Bryan, and take good care. See you around town, I’m sure!
      Nellie sends wags, Andi

  16. Marian Thier says:

    May the bliss on your face in the photo with Nellie be your visage for years to come. You deserve so many rewards for you perseverance, and it appears they are gradually coming your way.

    Rest and peace

  17. I am so happy for you!!!! It always amazes me . . . how I / we can be touched by the journey of total strangers or, in this case, by the friend of a friend . . . never having met and known only by words on a computer screen . . . . I’ve passed the link to your blog on to countless others and know that they, too, will be celebrating with you and Nellie as you step into your next adventure.

    Blessings to you on your journey!

  18. Andi, the chronicles of your journey to the underworld and back have inspired so many of us. Thank you and welcome home!! May the fates protect and bless you.

  19. Jodi says:

    I’m very happy you’re in your new home. I love the picture you’ve drawn for yourself of your future. May you grow old there, and the story of the fire ease with time and as new memories are made in your home. Cora the Pizza Pig (recently upgraded to Blueberry Muffin Thief) sends her wags and barks to The Princess.

  20. I’ve followed your tragic experience and your rebuilding post by post — and not often enough in person as well. Here’s to many years of happiness in your wonderful new home. I now hope that the Fire People from the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires will be directed to or find your blog, and will gain comfort, encouragement and hope from it.

  21. Andi,

    Inexplicably, Rumi came to me when I read your post, particularly the last part of one of his poems (the one that begins, “There is some kiss we want with our whole lives.”):

    “At night, I open the window
    and ask the moon to come
    and press its face into mine.
    Breathe into me.

    Close the language-dorr
    and open the love-window.

    The moon won’t use the door,
    only the windlow.”

    I hope you throw open your window at night long enough to let the moon press its face against you.


  22. ellen ellis says:

    Oh Andi, Such a long and winding road that leads you to your door! What lies behind and door is a journey that you will create with the love in your heart and the vision in your minds eye. Wishing you and Nellie and whomever comes in the future the most amazing discoveries and endless wonders. Gaze into your open field, breathe the crisp mountain air, remember where you have been and how far you have come. Your writing is amazingly clear as has been your vision. May you continually create.
    Lots of love, blessings always,
    Ellen, Kent and Halo

  23. Ah . . . that was door, not dorr.

  24. Welcome home, Andi and Nellie. Thanks for taking on us this amazing journey with you. I just love that last picture of you and Nellie it total heaven now that you are home.

  25. I read your words as I often have throughout your journey: with tears in my eyes. Although I haven’t been on a trial by fire as you have, I always see parallels between your experiences and my own dark and winding road. We all have sections of our path that are rocky, that seem impassable, that are our own private Mordors. It’s comforting to know that you and Nellie have returned to your Bag End. May you find rest and serenity in your new home.

  26. Margaret Eisenhart says:

    Andi, I am so thrilled for you and so in awe of all you have been through and accomplished in the past two years. How wonderful to be in your new home at last. Enjoy every second.

  27. Sue Lion says:

    Wow – what an amazing journey – for all of us. Your thoughtful and insightful words have brought thousands of people closer to what real loss is and the amazing phoenix transformation that can come from the ashes. My hat goes off to you for your courage and tenacity, your heart and tears – we are all touched and different people because of that.
    Now, on to the next amazing journeys! (I can see Nellie wagging in anticipation!)

  28. Laura says:

    Thank you, Andi, for telling this story so generously. While I’ve enjoyed your writing tremendously (you’re a beautiful writer) I congratulate you on your homecoming and return to normalcy. All good tidings …

  29. Bert Farin says:

    Congratulations Andi! Loved the photos…that’s a happy girl and a happy dog! Glad to see you in your new home, but we miss having you at Chautauqua. Like Katherine Hepburn once said (about marriage), live close by and visit often. Hope we’ll still be as much a part of your future as we were your past. Best wishes from Bert and all your friends at Chautauqua.

  30. Julie Heins says:

    You popped in and out of my thoughts yesterday as I packed for my trip, as we drove in air-conditioned coolness through a blazing (literally) hot Wyoming, and as I sat out on the cabin’s deck after nightfall immersed in the stillness and the blackness of a blanket of clouds. Even though I have not known you long your generous spirit has allowed me to journey with you to this new chapter. I am so honored by that grace. I can’t wait to hear of more victories that are waiting for you in the wings.

  31. Jim Rebman says:


    You made it! So very happy for you and the doggie. The journey may be over, but the voyage has just begun — but more on that when we next meet.

    One such a beautiful new home will need is the sound of sweet music playing and now that you’re there I will help you with that. It’s what I do.

    I would have never guessed you to not be a creative writer — obviously this experience has brought you a most wonderful gift, so please keep it coming!

    — Jim (Linda Tate’s husband)

  32. Jody Berman says:

    Wonderful news!! I look forward to reading about this new phase for you and Nellie.

  33. Bob says:

    I can’t thank you enough for getting me through one of the most challenging times in my family’s life. We lost our house to fire on September 29, 2011. We are still renting and looking to move in July 31. I’m not sure if every fire victim feels as you do but you captured it perfectly. It unnerves us to no end when people look at our new house and think somehow we were fortunate. We would take our leaky roof and worn carpets back in a heartbeat. My wife, my son, my daughter and myself have all dealt with this differently. Anyway, I thought a response of THANK YOU was in order for helping me through the fire. Good luck adapting to your new friend and may your memories in this house be as grand as the last.

  34. hairball_of_hope says:

    Andi, thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey from home to hell and back home again. Your writing and observations have deeply affected me, and I hope you continue writing from the heart. Now I will wait for the movie version of your story, with Meryl Streep playing Andi O’Conor (who knows what cutie will play Princess Nellie?). Put your feet up girl, you’re home now. Home.

    Awright, you know you have to do it… click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home.”

  35. Gail Storey says:

    What a heartwarming close to a tough journey, Andi, and a very auspicious beginning to a new phase in your life. Great photos, and I love the part about the stars, so true!

  36. I am so happy for you to finally be home. The quotes from Tolkien were especially touching and poignant for me. I read those books long long ago, and being reminded of them in this context was beautiful. May the earth bloom around you, may you be blessed with just the right amount of everything you need and want, and may you, and we, grow old and die with grace and dignity in the place we call home.

  37. Mary O'Conor Rosenfeld says:

    Amazing journey, Andi, and your beautiful writing has permitted us to accompany you. Every blessing to you, pats and hugs to Nellie, and PLEASE keep writing and posting…your journey continues in this new phase of your life! Mary

  38. Beth Partin says:

    So glad you’re home again, you and Nellie.

  39. Ken Cushner says:

    Welcome Home — and it certainly looks like a spectacular one! Beautifully written pieces that I’ve appreciated reading over the months. Sorry I’ll miss the house warming.

  40. kim mcauliffe says:

    Hi Andi & Nells – congratulations. I am soo soo happy for you. Thank you for sharing your story, hope and dreams. All the darkness and all the light. Inspiring cause you keep showing up no matter what. I love it. Love you. And WELCOME HOME!

  41. Kathy Kaiser says:

    Andi, good luck on the next part of this journey.

  42. Andi, I’m so deeply happy for you. What a journey you’ve been on (the understatement of the year!). Enjoy those sunsets; that’s quite a deck you’ve built to savor them. With love and blessings, Kristina

  43. Gale Dunlap says:

    Beautifully written, as usual, Andi. I am so glad you now have a new home. May you live there in peace and tranquility for the “rest of your days.”

  44. Cheri Hoffer says:

    Both of you leaner and stronger in your new forms; the woman and the house. May your days there with Nellie be many. Thank you for taking us this far. Your words have built a stone cathedral that no fire can turn to ash, and we all get to visit for prayer.

  45. Julie Luckey says:

    My heartfelt congratulations upon making it home. Enjoy getting to know each other. Nine months into my new haven on the old ground, I STILL say when I approach: “Whose pretty house is THAT?” And to the kitty I say with joy, “OUR home!” She is joyful too.

    Thank you again for your most eloquent and moving writing. (Your friends aren’t bad, either!) Thank you for helping ME get through. May I join the Tolkien thread? Not all those who wander are lost.

    We weren’t exactly wandering, we weren’t exactly lost . . . more like in exile (that was, thankfully, temporary – if waaaay too long). Welcome, welcome home.

  46. Steve weaver says:

    Congrats Andi, I’m so happy for you that you a finally in! The place looks beautiful, you did a great job. Now relax and enjoy the view! And maybe plan a trip somewhere warm to do some snorkeling maybe….sorry. Couldn’t resist. XO. Steve

  47. Priscilla says:

    Dear Andi, Nellie, and New House,
    May you enjoy one another for years to come. Drink deep of the earth, of the sky, of the mountains among which you rest, and may peace and blessings fill you all.

  48. dana says:

    your new home looks just gorgeous. what a beautiful kitchen. enjoy!



  49. Danielle says:

    Congrats! Thanks for the words of encouragement. Sometimes starting over doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it can mean new life and new hope.

  50. Amy says:

    Congratulations, Andi! Tears in my eyes for you, and best wishes to you & Nellie as you settle into your new home.

  51. Monique Hersh says:

    I hope you are doing well now that you and Nellie are back home. Having been down that same road it was difficult following your journey. The surprise for me personally is that the journey doesn’t end with the simple act of moving in. We are different people now and you are right about getting to know this new person. The post with the Rumi poem was perhaps one of my favorites. I shared it with friends and family at our yearly winter solstice party. And now I read it from time to time particularly on those days when a cloud looms over me. It helps to restore my perspective on life in general and gets me through the sadness that lingers. I wait for that day when I truly feel that this is home again, not as I knew it, but when my heart feels free to embrace it.

    I recently made a “break in ” fire in our Vermont Casting wood burning stove.The stove is very safe and properly installed. I hovered over the entire installation alongside our builder to make sure of that. But the stove stood cold and dark all last winter because I was afraid to bring “fire” into this new house of ours. A year later I am able to light it! When I stood back to watch the flames through the stove doors it came to me that this was the missing piece that completed our home. This fire is contained and beautiful, warm and embracing. It made the house feel like home again. We always loved our other stove, it filled the house with warmth and I could even cook on the top of it. It warmed spiced apple cider when we had friends and family over and of course it was a lifesaver when the power went out. It became the “heart” of the home with its lovely flames and red hot embers. And it will do so once again.

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