This morning my husband went with me for my favorite walk near the train station and ferry terminal, down by the beach. I look out at the Sound on one hand and daydream, and I look at the beautiful homes on the other hand, and daydream.
Today, it was noticeably smoky. To listen to the news, half the state of Washington is on fire. This is a regular occurrence in a region with so much wilderness.
When I was a little girl visiting my parents in Carson City, Nevada, smoke would often creep over the hills behind the house from various fires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or even farther away, in Yosemite or Mammoth Lake. The grownups would talk about the pristine beauty destroyed, the careless way the fires were started, homes lost. It was the reference to homes lost that frightened me. The grownups discussed these things calmly, but I lay in my bed at night wide awake, with panic fluttering in my chest. No one knew to comfort or reassure me because I never said anything about it. Nobody else seemed scared and I figured I shouldn’t be scared either, but I was.
When I was a bit older we moved to a small town in Nevada, to a home smack in the middle of nowhere, populated (it seemed to me) mostly by jackrabbits and sagebrush and scorpions. People regularly burned excess brush and weeds from their property, which wasn’t a problem until they chose too windy a day or weren’t paying close enough attention. Twice we had to vacate the house at the last minute when neighbors’ burns got out of control, and a third time when another brush fire edged too close. I remember the tense grimness of my mother’s expression as she gathered photo albums and ushered children into the car. My father hosed down our roof before turning to help the volunteer fire department. All three times we were able to return home within a few hours. I would watch the smoke out the passenger window as we drove away, electricity running through my veins. I wouldn’t be able to sleep for weeks after one of those mini-evacuations.
I don’t know where that childhood fear came from, but I no longer feel that edgy fear at the sight or scent of smoke in the air that I used to. Still, I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to choose which of your possessions are the most valuable in a matter of minutes. I can’t imagine literally fleeing for my life. I don’t consider myself materialistic but I do have a few possessions I consider treasures. The digital age has made some things easier, since my photos and journals and other written ramblings are all stored on the Cloud. I don’t own much that isn’t easily replaceable, but I can only imagine how cavernously empty it must be, to have all those tangibles of home, the layers of the years, reduced to hot cinders. In spite of the unexplained childhood fear, I think it must be easier for the children. Grown-ups build homes one brick and framed photo and hand-me-down vase at a time. I think it is easier for children to be at home anywhere they are safe with those who take care of them.
I’m sending out wishes for rain, and for safety for all in the path of this season’s infernos.