Monday, October 29, 2007

blackened skies

I've not talked much about the fires in California, mostly because it's hard to find the words. I grew up in one of the tiny mountain towns that has burned so viciously over the past week. A town of under 2000 people, a town of mountain men and snow and one or two roads off the hill. Seeing pictures of it burning, hearing that one, two, now three old friends have lost their homes, wondering if the home I grew up in all those years ago survived or if it too burned into the ashen sky.

Growing up in those mountains was a mix of redneckery, small town gossip, loyal neighbors and another kind of fire and brimstone. I hated it at the time, the long distance from the real world, the cold, the forever digging ourselves out of the snow. But it was something else too; small town safe, the place where everyone had to get their mail at the post office and the market down the road had the best candy. A place spent climbing trees and building forts, long school bus rides and four wheel driving. It's also where I learned to play baseball and where I learned to drive, where I had my first job and my first broken heart.

And now it's burned. It would be impossible not to know the names of folks whose homes have burned, even 20 years gone I still know. And in one week it's changed forever, the landscape blackened, the town grew smaller and wider still.

Posessions are just trappings. Clever disguises to keep us from knowing our ultimate selves. But they are also how we define our safety, where we lay our heads. We cleave to these things, to these tangible markers of our memories and then one day they fail us and gone, all gone.

And then we start anew. The courageous mountain men and women living there will find this as their beginning rather than their end. I know this because it's hardscrabble living in those hills and the weak wouldn't choose it. But clearing away the charred rubble of their lives until now is a solemn task at best.

32 comments:

Mrs. Chicken said...

As I watched the land burn on TV, I felt my heart breaking for those who suffered so many losses. You're right, in the end it is just stuff, but these are the details that make up our day-to-day lives.

I imagine the sudden homelessness of so many to be touching you, also.

Kyla said...

Possessions yes...but still so sad, and such hard work to rebuild. I want to believe it can be done as well.

Mad Hatter said...

There was a story on the news here last night about all the migrant workers too afraid to seek the help of the shelters for fear of deportation. It's really too much to think about, isn't it? Possessions may be our trappings but they are also our sanity and our essence.

ms chica said...

Natural disasters are devastating to small towns. From an infrastructure standpoint, they don't have a strong enough tax base to rebuild quickly when it's necessary, and state governments tend to be more concerned rebuilding heavily populated areas. From an individual standpoint, these families struggle to survive when natural disasters are not eminent.

It's easier to divorce ourselves from tragedy before were learn its name, and hear its story.

Beck said...

But our houses are more than just things, aren't they? I think of mine as a physical extension of myself, this inanimate part of me. I can't quite imagine the grief I would feel if I had to leave just clutching my cats and my photo albums and watch my house vanish in flames on the evening news.

Family Adventure said...

I feel terrible for all the Californians facing utter devastation and destruction of the lives they have built up. There's now about 1 million evaculated people, according to the news I'm getting here.

But the sheer magnitude of the destruction is a distraction from the catastrophe that this fire is for each and every one of the people who have lost their home.

Thank you for the reminder and refocus.

Heidi

Christine said...

these fires have terrorized the lives of so many, taking all they have. i hop that that little town recovers itself and rises like a phoenix from the burning embers.

Jenny said...

My heart just breaks for them.

Mayberry said...

Mine too. It's easy to say that "things" are just that. But we have to mourn them too.

Momish said...

The full extent of the loss is hard to fathom for any of us not directly effected. I can't imagine the pain and hurt those people are feeling. I am so sorry for their suffering. Your hometown seems like the kind of place I use to fantasize about growing up in when I was a kid stuck in the big city.

flutter said...

possessions, yes but also lifetimes gathered in photos and verse. In rings of gold and vases of flowers. Memories wrapped in a trinkets, turned to black dust.

Kellan said...

Jen - this was so sad and yet so beautiful! I'm so sorry for all the loss and of course for your particular sadness. I love that you believe that they will not consider this an ending - but a new beginning - because that is just who they are. We could sure use a lesson or two from them! Great post - as usual - I loved it. See ya soon.

liv said...

It just makes me sick to think about. I have no words, but only silent prayers.

Karen Forest said...

I hope they already have, or eventually adopt, this wonderful belief about new beginnings.

Blog Antagonist said...

It's a truly terrible thing when people lose their homes and their lives to disaster. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering at the hands of this wretched fire. I'm so sorry about your childhood home. I feel much the same about mine, and it would be devastating to see it gone.

painted maypole said...

beautiful.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your town. As much as I like to slam the town I grew up in, if something were to happen to it I'd be devastated. That's your roots. It's all we have really.

crazymumma said...

I'm so sorry Jen.

I know all too well the loss a fire brings.

Julie Pippert said...

It's not just the things that you lose. The community gets a hit, too, as some won't come back and rebuild, others can't.

So I can get what you mean.

My heart goes out to them all.

And hopes that this ends, soon.

Julie
Using My Words

cce said...

While I've never experienced a tragedy on the scale of this fire, I have lived through a few hurricanes and can say that the silver lining is the community building, the forced camaraderie that is the aftermath of tragedy. Hopefully your home town will experience this type of unification now that the flames have subsided.

KC said...

It's devastating. I hope they are supported through this time.

theflyingmum said...

Lots of my extended family live in Southern CA - my family has been vigilantly emailing back and forth and so far no one has HAD to evacuate. Still, it's pins and needles, waiting.

Janet said...

I think I would mourn the loss of all the visual reminders in my house that trigger delicious memories of the life we have lived here.
The stuff is all replacable.

slouching mom said...

It's awful.

I hope your town can come together over this and begin anew.

I'm sorry, Jen.

mitzh said...

It's one of the worst thing that could happen to people, I think. Seeing everything turns into black dust.

I know that it's only material things and such but the memory and the hard work that revolves around it are really the precious ones.

Hope everyone will get through it and have a beautiful beginning.

Beautiful post, as always.

thailandchani said...

I had no idea you were from SoCal. (I am also.) Great post... memorable.

carrie said...

It's going to be a long, hard road. But they'll do it. And they'll have home again. They will.

Susanne said...

I can't even imagine how it must be to live in an area like that. Here I am sitting in front of a little fire in our stove that keeps me warm, knitting lace, and in your part of the world fire is consuming the land and people's homes...

hel said...

I'm sorry I have not been around lately. Too much work and too little time.

But I think about you daily and send my good wishes winging through the stars.

Amy York said...

IT's so awful... I am sorry to hear about your friends' homes.
I wouldn't be so sad about my home or my possessions but of course the things that can't be recovered... memories, pictures, pets, smells...

bgirl said...

great post jen

Lawyer Mama said...

(((HUGS))) to you.