Places where the fire had passed looked like ancient ruin sites. Patches of red retardant played the role of the blood of the wounded earth.
As we approached the village of Cobb, where reports at that time were that it was gone, it was almost too shocking to see it standing, unscathed, yet abandoned. I felt like the front line troops that are first on the scene after a bloody battle. Expecting and not expecting. Not knowing, for never have been. We continued on to my neighborhood in disbelief as the calm but bruised forest and neighborhoods continued to reveal themselves untouched.
My neighborhood has one of the oldest resorts on the mountain still in operation. Generations of families continue to book a week or two each summer, bringing friends and family to this rustic gem nestled in the forest. The road names reflect the trees making up the forest: dogwood, cedars, maples, pines and Douglas firs decorate the neighborhood that has year round open springs meandering through. The canopy of the forest is 60-80 feet tall, creating protection for the English ivy, lilacs and other shrubs. There are a few redwoods here and there. Whether remnants of old redwood forests or planted by early settlers, they fit right into the mixed conifer forest.
My belief has always been to live where you like the natural landscape. It's a pretty Taoist approach. One of least effort and one that suits my temperament. Rather than spending time and energy upholding things that don't thrive, I love the plants that are attracted to this area--even the cursed English ivy.
As we rounded the corner of the highway that reveals the entrance road to the neighborhood, there it all stood, intact. I can't remember my emotional reaction as we pulled into the driveway, but nothing was damaged. My hiking buddy's car was parked where she left it. Ash had rained everywhere, but nothing was harmed.
I got on a chat app and radioed my neighbor that everything was fine at home. She, having left the day before, rescuing Shyla's ashes and my mom's rings, could not believe my words. The maps being published showed all of Cobb in the hot spot. I assured her again, but she still couldn't believe it. She saw the reports. There was no way our neighborhood should have been left standing. I quickly took a picture of her front yard and house and sent it off. She was astounded. And grateful.
It turns out that the maps being distributed were infrared and reflected heat--not flames. So, as our little area glowed red, it was only that the temperatures in the area were high--some reports of upwards of 2,000 degrees farenheit. What was certain that it was HOT. As we drove we noticed there were no porcelain toilets left in any of the homes we surveyed. Porcelain melts at over 1,900 degrees Farenheit.
It was about this time that the flushing shame of survivor's guilt started its insidious path toward my heart. It was one thing to be privileged to have access to my home while others were left in bewilderment and unknowing. It was another to know my home still stood and people I knew lost theirs. My stomach sank.
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