It's amazing how quickly the mind can forget profound truths. Particularly those that are discovered in exhaustion and under stress. Like the wind that blew through our camp, this attitude and outlook upon the situation drifted out of my mind upon waking in the morning. My mind resorted to trying to figure out all the differing scenarios of possibility.
I had been homeless before upon the ending of a 13 year relationship. Shyla and I spent a year in a tent on a friend's property--it was one of the best experiences of healing and perfect opportunity for connecting more deeply to the Tao of existence. It also was the stepping stone to my living in the cabin for all those years. Was this a bad thing? Quite the contrary! Not anything that I would have specifically chosen for myself, but so deeply grateful the situation presented itself and circumstances were as they were where I had to live there long enough to find the depth of beauty and aliveness that held me there for over 10 years.
Is this the fate that was in store for me again? After three years of setting up home on Cobb, was it all to be gone?
When my friend (whose home was potentially in the path of the fire) and I talked later that morning, considering what it would be like if our homes were gone, she reflected that she was okay with it--she had been there 30+ years and not all the memories were good. The location wasn't ideal and there was that all-encompassing build up of stuff, that, like a magnet, has a tendency to accumulate, whether the space is there to contain it or not.
I listened and as I did, took my own inventory of likes and dislikes of my home, only I came to a different conclusion--I LOVED my home! It's far beyond what I had ever hoped for in layout, furnishings, location, amenities and feeling. It's small, tucked in a quiet neighborhood nestled in the conifers, maples and dogwoods. It was a dream come true and then some. Ohhh....I lamented in the exploration. I wasn't ready to let it go. Not very mindful and accepting, but the truth, nonetheless.
But, if I had to, what would I do? Rebuild the same home? In the same location?
We had plenty of time for inner reflection that morning as we made our way out of camp up the steep grade to the point of cell phone reception. While exhausted from the night's tossing and turning, I was eager to get back both into communication range and then home--if it still stood.
When the #RockyFire and #JerusalemFire were fought, Calfire resources were many. Thousands of fire fighters were stationed in our region for many weeks as the blazes were eventually cast to their grave--extinguished resolutely. Massive resources were mounted on our community's behalf and a lot of us learned to rest assured in those resources.
But, the #ValleyFire was different. It swept through the mountain area so fast that the first hours were not spent fighting the fire, but quickly trying to evacuate residents and assess its path. Most Calfire responders were off fighting other fires in California and, as most of the fire personnel involved in the #ValleyFire reflected, they had never seen one act this way. Particularly with the crazy winds, stirring from every location. It was unpredictable and unprecedented. Which is what they said of the #RockyFire and #JerusalemFire.
This was a season of unprecedented fire behavior not only driven by four years of drought, but by the accumulated effects of climate change.
The ascent up the grade to the place of cell phone reception was a good warm up and stretch to tend to the fatigued muscles from the day before. The fog had lifted mostly and revealed views we anticipated when making the plans for the journey--craggy rock formations jutting out from the shoreline, birds listlessly in flight, greens in varying shades that gave depth and dimension for miles, and defined forested paths with an increased clarity and freshness.
We each found our reception spot on the ridge of the hill. I called Jim immediately. He began by apologizing profusely, "Oh, baby, I'm so sorry..."
The sound of his voice told the story. I could do nothing but guide my crumpling body to the ground in a seated position, backpack weighting me down and keeping me upright at the same time.
"Cobb is reportedly gone and so is Middletown..." he continued.
I cocked my head sideways and furrowed my brow in complete disbelief. "How...? How...?" And then started crying and crying out loud enough for everyone to hear and understand, "Cobb is gone! Middletown is GONE!" And then the uncontrollable sobbing took over.
As much as one tries to foretell how one would respond to a situation, I contend it's a waste of time. Nothing prepares you. Nothing. I surprised myself at the uncontrollable nature of my response. Acting as the town crier, yelling out details, when each friend was busy making connections that were important to them.
Most of my response and the details following this is gone from my memory. Jim conveyed his many attempts at reaching my home to retrieve the important things--only to be thwarted at each roadway into the Cobb area. My neighbor confirmed that she successfully retrieved Shyla's ashes, which meant she had my rings, too, but couldn't find my laptop.
As the hike progressed, I thought of all the items that were gone. The only thing that surfaced with the most meaning was that I forgot about the pillowcase full of Shyla's fur. The pillowcase that was filled over the years of brushing out her thick, luxurious gold-spun hair that glistened intensely in the sun. The one that I hugged close to me virtually every night since she passed and I got over the weirdness of the idea of it.
Nothing else in the home seemed to have meaning. Photos, computer, car--nothing was as important. I had a smidgen of her ashes and a few strands of hair in a sacred pouch in my pack, as is my want when traveling. It was all that remained.
I oscillated between my heart sinking and then re-cognizing that my friends had lost important things, too. Compassion slowly crept in and out, as did grumpiness and alertness.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom