I don’t really know where to begin, so I guess I’ll start with this. Like so many others, I have watched scenes play out on television of the seemingly never-ending stream of natural disasters around the world. Hurricanes, earthquakes and wild fires. I have made donations and tried to imagine what it must be like for those affected, before turning my attentions back to the order of the day. The next time I hear of such a disaster it will be with an altogether different perspective.
We have been living in a surreal and apocalyptic bubble for the past week – quite literally a bubble of hazy smoke which has prevented us seeing our usual blue skies and bright sunshine and cut us off from the rest of the world and normal life. I haven’t worked in a week, focused instead on trying to make a difference to those in dire straits.
My Facebook feed has mostly been dominated with minute-by-minute updates of the fires’ latest movements, who needs help where and what, of animals lost and found. But every now again, a glimpse of the normal outside world – a birthday, a trip to a concert, a party – will pop up on my screen and I’ll be reminded of how life was for us just eight days ago.
I am now familiar with the fear of going to bed uncertain of what the morning will bring, or whether fresh fiery terrors will occur during the night. Of hating to hear a text alert from local authorities, afraid to read it, nervous of what it might say.
I have listened to the gut-wrenching stories of friends who had to literally flee for their lives, flames at their heels, before losing everything except their lives, thank goodness. And now they are contemplating what they will do next, their entire neighborhoods and communities destroyed. Nothing will be the same as before. Many want to flee again. Leave the area and start afresh.
I know what it is like to watch your child pick which of his treasured possessions he would bring with him, should we have to evacuate. And to walk around my home choosing what I would save in an emergency, and what I would hate to live without.
I’ve had to paint my phone number on my horse’s back, in the event that to save her life—and the others in her herd—we have to just open the gates and hope for the best.
I’ve experienced the roller coaster emotions that come and go – Day 4 and 6 were the hardest for me. On Day 4, I wanted to get out of here, but stayed.
One of my Labs, who usually carries one our shoes in her mouth, has taken instead to carrying N95 face masks around. I guess they smell of us too.
And yesterday, when I popped a barbecue-flavored Pop Chip in my mouth, I realized that the smoky flavor was the very last thing I wanted to taste. That, in fact, my mouth has tasted of acrid, dry smoke for days now, and I don’t really want to consume anything smoked, charred or grilled, for quite some time to come.
And yet there are so many silver linings…
I have experienced what it feels like to see your whole community come together to support those who have lost everything – and to welcome those people into our small town with open arms. I am SO proud to be part of this heart-strong, action-oriented population.
I have a phone full of numbers of amazing, inspiring and caring people I hadn’t met a week ago, and likely would have never met. These are folks I got to know as we cared for evacuated livestock, mostly horses, at the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, day in and day out. It has been a humbling and inspirational experience to work alongside them.
I have ended each day physically exhausted from being on my feet and doing a lot of manual labor (s**t shoveling, anyone?), yet I have rarely felt more satisfied or rewarded by a day’s work, knowing that I made a difference to someone or some being.
I have heard from dozens of friends and family around the world, concerned for us and wanting to ensure we are okay.
I have seen so many local people in a new light. Whether it’s been the heroic efforts of my riding instructor, who has been evacuating horses and other animals from burning pastures, or the generosity of the local business owners (notably, Rivertown Feed Store and Rex Ace Hardware) who have donated endless supplies to the fairgrounds.
I have watched friends ‘do what they do‘ in an attempt to make a difference. From building a web site – California Fire Help – in two days flat to help raise money for fire victims, to offering massages to those in local shelters, or hosting a much-needed free meditation for the community.
And perhaps, most importantly, I have witnessed firsthand what the human race can accomplish for each other, when we come together with love and compassion in our hearts. That has been a powerful and intense experience.
As the signs say: The Love In The Air Is Thicker Than Smoke. #sonomastrong
We are barely at the end of the beginning. The road to rebuilding will be long and hard. If you can, please consider donating to one of the fund-raising campaigns below.