Saturday, August 23, 2014

now while the world is burning

The air is thick with smoke. My heart keeps racing. The sunset is glorious, the golden sun haloed in shimmering orange, so pretty I am tempted to stare directly into it, and after I watch the sunset a while afterimages dart about everywhere I look, a black sun, a red one, dancing colors.

There are fires to the south of us and fires to the north. The Cal-fire map makes it look as if all of this part of California is blazing, as if all the hillsides are burning. Although I know rationally that the fires are miles away, that I am safe where I am, my body doesn’t seem to agree. The scent of smoke says “run now, get away, save yourself, quickly!”

It’s hard to concentrate. I keep checking on the cats, the dog, my son. I wonder how much I should worry about the smoke particles and his compromised lungs and valiant heart. I close the windows. I open them again, to get some air. The sky has turned flamingo pink and glowing and it is one of the most lovely sunsets ever.

I have flashbacks to the fire at the top of the hill when my children were very young, and we had no vehicle, and we needed to decide whether to walk out, down the hillsides, or stay put, praying that the fire would burn up and back down the eastern side of the hills, not to our tiny cabin, not to our refuge. We watched the planes laden with giant orange bags of water flying over, coming back to the river, flying again.

I wondered what to take. In these days of disaster preparedness we are supposed to have entire kits ready and evacuation plans and enough water for everyone for…I don’t know, lots of days…and flashlights and radios and all sorts of very sensible things. Back then..well, even if we had such a kit I couldn’t have carried everything. I was carrying a baby and holding a toddler by the hand. My eldest son was calm, and probably my partner was as well.  So I made my quick material choices: if everything is going to be lost, what do you need to save?

Well, obviously the children. And obviously the dogs. And though my heart was wrenched, I had no way to corral the cats and hoped they would be smart and find shelter.

Other than that…well, I grabbed an envelope of important papers, my notebooks, and the journals I kept for the children, which were full of photographs and musings: first smiles, long nights, astonishing sayings, sunlit moments and times of turmoil. And I think I may have grabbed my great aunt’s necklace. And a pen.  I think my partner similarly tried to save some manuscripts…memories are vague.

That fire never reached us. It was small, only a meadow fire, and quickly put out. Not like the acres burning now up and down the steep ravines, through the deep forests.

Everything is so dry.

My heart keeps pounding.

But I’ve been thinking…it’s good to know what’s important. What you treasure. What you’d hold to if everything else were lost. I gave those child journals to my children as they passed 21, and I think they had fun with them—those records of long ago days, the assurance that they matter, are loved, are treasured (and sometimes despaired of: “why is he still crying? Why can’t I tell?”). But I would have those things in my heart anyway. My own journals, my poetry—would I save it now? I don’t know. I gave my great aunt’s necklace to my daughter.

Leaving now…I’d take the cats, the dogs, my youngest son, who would of course want his papa close.. Maybe I’d grab a notebook on the way, and a good pen.

I should be more practical. I make a note to get my first aid supplies in order and remember where I keep batteries. I should store some water, put aside some matches, make sure my son’s medications are backed up.

But I know what I most hold to, even if the world is burning up. My loves, my vibrant breathing living ones, two footed, four footed.

Grab my hand. If there is danger, at least we will be together.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Anonymous am said...

"But I know what I most hold to, even if the world is burning up. My loves, my vibrant breathing living ones, two footed, four footed."

Your posts continue to move me. I'm sending love to you and all who are being affected by those fires.

Having been born in California and having lived there until I was 24 years old, fire season disturbs me, too, on a gut level. The first major fire I witnessed was in 1967 when I was attending U.C. Irvine, away from my home in Northern California for the first time. That was the Paseo Grande Fire. I remember the sun being blotted out by smoke and the strange red air. I remember when my uncle and aunt's home was one of the few homes in their neighborhood that didn't burn to the ground in a canyon fire in 1961. Now I'm wondering what they took with them, knowing that their house might be gone when they returned.

I live with my cat, and I would put her in her carrier and carry her to safety if I were to be faced with a fire. After having to learn to live with so many losses of people and things that I have treasured, I can't think of anything except my cat that I couldn't leave behind.

Oh, wait. I would take a tiny matchbook-like book made and signed by Suze Rotolo in the last years of her life. On the cover is the word "Sea." Upon opening the matchbook, one finds a watercolor painting of the ocean meeting the sand. It unfolds, accordion-style. It is so small that I could put it in my pocket. It would remind me to keep my creativity alive, no matter what happens.

7:01 PM, August 23, 2014  
Blogger Lucy said...

There are those moments when we are brought up sharply to recognise what's really important; with luck we learn the lessons without their being fatal.

Thinking of you at this worrying time, take care.

5:59 AM, August 24, 2014  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

am--your choices sound good; that matchbook sounds like a wonderful treasure.
Lucy, thanks for thinking of us. The fires remain a bit south, but the smoke has continued now for weeks. We keep trying to get in touch with what matters most.

11:55 AM, August 24, 2014  

Post a Comment

<< Home