The pendulum swing of this week is my reminder that all can change suddenly, with little warning or only a whiff, that the mind and heart can know different true things.
Feeling daunted with the task of sorting thru a family household of accumulated belongings, I travelled home feeling I must free my own self of too many possessions. Something said often, although it is much harder to act on. There is stuff, and there are those fragments of a life that have meaning, surprises to comprehend. There are reminders of how incomplete our knowledge of the lives of our parents or grandparents might be, that their journeys have an untold story and that some of it will be left to our very inadequate imaginations to fill in.
Himself found a treasure of ancestral documents that led me to revisit the working lives of those who came west to seek and make a better life. Some of the papers held beauty in the form of penmanship worthy of a Ken Burns project. Small forgotten elements of life challenged by dust bowls, the depression, wars – tough times. These pages are a proof of life in many ways.
A day later, a calm early fall evening was interrupted by a whiff of smoke. In seconds the calm was destroyed by a real and clear threat of fire as a neighbors barn burned, bright fire just beyond our trees. As himself went to assess the threat, I quickly packed the most basic items necessary, should we have to abandon our home. With a practical panic, I decided passports, a few clothes, and cat food were first to place in the car, turning it around for escape position and readying the carrier for our quite unconcerned kitty. I selected these items as I told myself that the rest was just stuff. I then walked down to the front line, barely able to breathe, hyperventilating, something I am coming to regard as a more visceral response to the prospect of everything that might describe or document our life as we knew it, evaporating.
We live in a rural and beautiful place. A wild and dry place at this time of year, with abundant fuel. And fortunately on this night, no wind and a huge and fierce response by firefighters from several agencies including our critically important local volunteer fire department.
The structure had been fully involved, a phrase of firefighting language that means it will, or has, burnt completely, and the goal is to contain the spread, protect other structures, wildlands and lives. There were no occupants, but in a place where most parcels might seem large by town standards, 5 acres mostly, there were houses quite close to the flames. All were saved – at a time of year where every timber is dry, grasses golden and crisp, there is too much fuel should a fire spread. But it was a windless night, and calm fire professionals turned out in heavy and immediate response. My own panic and fears will subside as I begin to understand this. I am grateful, but sobered by how the closeness of this felt.
Everyone on our driveway returned home that night. The fire crews stayed through the night to mop up. Most folks call that a win.
We will miss this old barn, a reminder of the origins of all our parcels, orchards divided by the man who owned most of this ridge. The beauty of this place is breathtaking, and sometimes fragile, and we are appreciative of the fact that because fire season is still on, the staffing has not yet been cut back.