and fire is always a concern, and so when I woke up yesterday morning at 2 am smelling smoke, I walked outside to see if there were visible flames. None. Then we called the fire department. Many fires — 12 of them all together — burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. Matt and I had just returned from a few days away in Calistoga, and that was on fire too.
As of this morning, 11 people have died in the 12 fires that have consumed 60,000 acres and is not yet contained. No rain in sight. Thousands of people have lost their homes. Tourists in the wine country have had to flee for their lives. Our house is filled with smoke and the air is dark. Ashes are raining down everywhere you look. The sun, when you can see it, is dark red.
The first chapter of my upcoming book "This Messy Magnificent Life" begins: I am making a cup of tea in my favorite purple-flowered mug when I smell smoke. I look through the windows behind me and see plumes of flames through the trees. I call the fire department and they tell me there is a fire down the road, that it’s not contained, and that we might have to evacuate our home.
Further on in TMML, I write about my friend Lauren whose house burned down two years ago in a fire and who stayed with me for days after the fire. I didn’t write about my friend Sarah who lost her house a few years earlier, or our friends Ken and Margie whose house burned down a few years before that. The fact and the danger of fire remains a constant while living in California. It’s a desert here. It’s dry here. The reason why so many people love living here is the daily cost of living here. The two go together. But the truth is there no safe place. Every place has its dangers. After the 1989 earthquake, my mother implored me to move to New York. After 9/11, she stopped asking.
Today, with the mountains and the sky shrouded in smoke, I am packing suitcases for just-in-case evacuation. What to take. What matters. Clothes? My father’s watch? Papers, computers, our wedding album. Izzy, of course. What does a life comes down to.
As we are not yet being evacuated, but many people have been— I am so aware of the kindness of other people. A friend drove to Santa Rosa to bring medicine to her friend who’d lost his house in the fire. We’ve opened our community center with cots for people who have no place to sleep. When someone posted on our community board that there were 52 horses in Napa that needed evacuating immediately, someone with a trailer volunteered to get at least some of them. The web of human life and the life force itself is unstoppable. The kindness is immeasurable and uncontained.
For years — it’s been 19 now since we moved here — I have been concerned about fire. When the rains come, I am always happy and relieved. And still, all that concern (or worry) boils down to this moment. What matters to me. How can I help those people who need it.
The realization that everything is so temporary. Everything. The place where Matt has led his summer retreats burned down yesterday. It seemed so solid. So utterly, irrevocably and forever there. So did his friend Jerry who died a few weeks ago.
What to do. Pack the suitcases. Be ready to evacuate. Plot out the escape route. Do all the tree work around the house that will keep a fire from leap-frogging to the roof. And then and always: live, appreciate that I still have a house now. That I can still breathe now. That I still have a body now. Love what can be loved, show up for what is needed, and continually ask myself what is not wrong right now. Because underneath the smoke, the sky is still and forever blue.