It was my plan to post the first story of a new mini-story series last week. Needless to say, that did not happen when, instead, fires broke out and rampaged through the North Bay area. After a chaotic, anxiety-riddled week, I sat down to write the next mini-story, hoping to settle my mind and find a brief escape from the surreal reality of a wildfire-ravaged hometown.
But my thoughts were thick with choking smoke, my ears ringing with sirens, fixed-wing planes, and helicopters, my vision filled with flames and falling ash and burnt husks of areas I once strolled through. A land that was dry, but glowing with fall colors and deep evergreens, now is a monotone palette of gray. The sky is gray, the trees are gray, the streets are gray, the air is gray; our sight filtered by smoke, showing us a dismal reality we cannot escape.
Many disasters are over quickly, but not wildfire. The days of having a packed go-bag in the car, an obsessive relationship with your cell phone for Nixle updates, and staring out across a haze-filled sky while taking heavy breaths through an N-95 mask stretch out and turn to weeks.
We thank every single person who has helped out, shown up, organized, and put their life on the line to save our home and the people and animals that live here.
And we wait.
We wait for the news that all the fires have been contained.
We wait for the smoke to clear and reveal the blue skies we know are on the other side.
We wait for the rain to wash away the ash that was our old life.
And we start again, saving what we can, rebuilding what we can’t, knowing the old normal will never return, but that we will find our way to a new normal.
Because that is the gift of fire: a fresh start.