Crossroads by Carolyn #78

    In the early morning hours on October 29th, the wildfire came.  I woke up to howling wind ripping through the canyon, shaking the window panes, and freeing the blue tarp that covers the firewood.  As I lay mostly asleep, the thought entered my mind of what would happen if a power line fell in the forest.  Still, the idea of a fire was rather abstract and distant and I fell back asleep.
    A few hours later, David and I woke up to a windy, but clear sky.  As I made coffee, he turned on the news.  The California wildfires were still burning out of control; images of scorching flames filled the screen, yet across the bottom came a message.  A downed power line had started a fire around 2:30 in the morning outside of Jamestown, where we live.  At that point, the fire was only 2 acres large and a few miles away.  Nevertheless, David told me he wasn’t going to leave me and go to work until the fire was completely out. 
    It was rather a strange sensation to watch the fires burning in California, watch the flames consume everything in their path, and then realize that the same thing was happening a couple of mountain humps away from me.  Even with the fire so close, it was hard to connect with it, like watching a war on television. With war, I knew it was happening, I knew it was bad, but my emotional body couldn’t truly grasp it.  Same with watching the fires in California.  But when I went onto the back deck and saw the smoke rising over the mountainside, the huge billows of white, brown, and black smoke, the danger became very real. 
    I went back to the television.  The number for the sheriff’s emergency line was trailing across the bottom of the screen. I called. “The fire is currently burning 60 acres and is uncontained. Mandatory evacuations are in effect for Jamestown.”  Since we live in unincorporated Jamestown, the evacuation was not yet mandatory for us. I called the number every half an hour or so.  When the fire grew to 500 acres, periodically jumping a mile at a time and smoke blanketed the north to northeastern sky, I decided it was time to leave.  About two miles north of us, the fire was burning due east.  If the winds changed, our house would be lost.
    I grabbed my boxes of photographs, my journals, and the teddy bear I’ve had since I was a baby, and brought them to the front door.  My next thought was for my records.  And then I began to panic.  Anything that came with me would have to leave room for some of David’s things, our bodies, and our three big dogs.  I thought nothing about leaving clothes, furniture, kitchen stuff, and things like that.  I asked David to bring my records downstairs, as the wood boxes I keep them in are too big and heavy for me to carry.  He told me that there was no room for them.  I was already running on fear, worry, and emotion, so when I heard those words leave his mouth, I just about went insane. After having never screamed at him in the year we’d been together, I unleashed. 
    The fight began.  How could he tell me I couldn’t bring my records as he packed up just about every article of his clothing?! I cried that the records are the dearest thing to me, full of memories, inspiration, and salvation.  He said they did nothing to contribute to survival, which was all he was thinking about.  Yet, at that moment, I couldn’t see how shit like clothes could win out.  In the whirlwind of my panicked thoughts, a couple of things became evident.  For one, if you aren’t into punk and records, you just don’t understand what it can mean.  He yelled that he wasn’t bringing his CDs and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Well yeah, they’re fucking CDs!”  But out of that exchange came the calm realization on both of our parts that in times like those, everyone must be left to their own value systems.  What I brought was not his decision to make and vice versa, as long as we shared the space.
    Secondly, the words replaceable and irreplaceable are relative and almost meaningless.  In my emotional outburst about the records, I claimed that many of them are virtually irreplaceable; I’d need a lot of time and money to get them back, if I ever could.  I argued that he could simply go to a store and get more clothes.  And then he burst my emotional bubble.  While it is true that it would be hard or impossible to replace my record collection, it would be almost just as hard to wake up after the fire and go out and get new clothes, a new computer, shoes, and all the other things I’ve accumulated over the years that allow me to go to class, work, pay the bills, and generally live.  There have been years when I’ve had virtually nothing and claimed that I needed very little.  But the way my life is now, I need my computer, my files, my pots and pans, coffee maker, winter jacket, snow shovels, etc, which is a whole other column in itself.  For David, at that moment, what mattered to him was how he was going to be able to go to work the next day and the day after.  When I thought about it, even going to a store to replace all my socks and underwear was more than I had to spend. 
    The fire had grown to over 1000 acres and come up and over the hill in Jamestown when we drove away.  I brought some clothes, my computer, important papers, photos, journals, shoes, and some records.  I decided that indeed, all of my records wouldn’t fit, and I packed a box of LP’s.  I had frantically gone through as many as I could and pulled out the ones I cared the most about.  That was tough.  There was no time to attempt to do the same with the 7”s, so I grabbed a few off the top of my head and then the entire ‘D’ section, figuring a bunch of my favorites would be in there.  This is why you should alphabetize kids! Others I had David haul into the bathtub, as my last hope of saving them. 
    As I headed towards town, I saw the flames on the mountains.  After the entire struggle over what to bring in the car, I cried purely for the landscape.  I knew that the ecosystem was meant to burn, and it was only because of human efforts that it hadn’t in a while, but still, it was sad to see the forest up in flames.  I thought of the deer and other animals trapped and burned.  I passed the film crews and fire gawkers entranced by the spectacle of burning earth. 
    A lot of things went through my mind that night, as David, the dogs, and I stared at the television, looking for updates.  I was happy to have the most important things, my partner and animals, but as the fire grew to over 5000 acres, I wondered if I’d wake up homeless, with my life buried in the ash.  I was scared and worried, but knew whatever happened, I’d dealt with it all before.  Loss, nothingness, new beginnings.  As it did happen, the fire came to within a mile of our house.  In the early hours of the next day, nature delivered snow, quenching the flames.