We rose early while the house was still dark and freezing cold. Dawn was but a few minutes away as we stood in the driveway on top of a hill and watched the east aflame in red and pink. “Do you think it’s fire?” he said. “I don’t think so.” I said , hopefully. “It’s a spectacular dawn.” Here I sit in a freezing cold study wrapped in layers of wool and a warm cap nearly a week later grateful that PG&E turned on the electricity yesterday. Understanding by implication that a more competent enemy could one day hack the mighty nation-state of California back into the Middle Ages.
Recalling those recent past days, I feel a heightened sense of poignancy about standing in that driveway with the good friend who gave me shelter when Andie and I were ordered to evacuate. The ground on which we were standing is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the county, abundant with lush orchards, an exquisite hill of prize winning roses and a handsome ranch house and outbuildings. In a single stroke all could have been lost if a tsunami of fire danced over the holding line of highway 101 and destruction would have wiped out generations of endeavor of the old school Sonoma kind.
We were given our evacuation warnings at the end of last week. So. Andie and I began to gather up the essentials that we would want or need to begin again if the worst happened. Andie sensing my distress stayed glued to my heels as I padded through the cottage gathering ‘stuff’ like my 50 years of memoirs due to end up in an archive collection at the San Francisco library, copies of recent publications, a few select photos of loved ones, a shopping bag of clothes, documents like banking and passports and so on. All of Andie’s papers and special food, a few favorite toys were included, not to mention a half dozen peanut butter and jam sandwiches, apples and a few bananas.
And so we waited. As the sun was setting PG&E ordered our little village to evacuate, all two thousand plus of us in the dark, all on the only road out of town to join approximately three million others and 148,00.00 in West county Sonoma to three or four shelters in Petaluma and the Santa Rosa Fair Grounds. I knew where Petaluma was, having been there a few times over the years, but had no clue where these shelters were. I am 73, live alone with my dog Andie, am somewhat disabled, have glaucoma and a cataract in one eye, all of which make me a hazard driving at night. It was frightening. I figured I could make it to the Fair Grounds, because I found it by accident several times getting lost on Highway 12 in that miasma of bad planning called Santa Rosa. But, since they were only taking animals I figured maybe they would have a soupcon of mercy and let me in as Andie’s guide human, or if I could find that old Halloween Minotaur costume we could pass as Beauty and the Beast. Where to go was a distressing dilemma, so I figured we’d go to Sebastopol up the road and stay in the Safeway parking lot, close to where a dear friend lives. She asked another friend if we could stay at his place for a while. A neighbor insisted we meet at the Safeway lot so she could be sure we were safe. This little vignette is a perfect illustration of the better angels about us that we see day in and day out, who when the chips are down stand with us and care about our well being.
It was also a profound lesson for me in the truth of my situation. I’ve lived a very adventuresome and often dangerous life and by second nature thought I could still think my way through it all by sheer mental will. Those days are well over and I am increasingly aware of how vulnerable I am now. The habits and comforts of managing my life in the small cottage, in the small village in which Andie and I live simply do not translate into crises situations of the magnitude we have all just experienced.
I wholeheartedly agree with Supervisor Linda Hopkins, who lives in our village that her main feeling was one of gratitude for survival, for safety and for those alert and caring better angels that appear in times like this to comfort, aid, and provide the encouragement to survive and make sure our pets do too.
I thank with the deepest appreciation neighbor med-tech Josh, who stopped with the red emergency truck to ask if I was OK, did I need food? Neighbors John and Melinda, who brought me delicious deli food from their escape place in Napa, For Cathy who brought me a food box filled with delicious munchables, For Susan and her daughter Ali who waited for me at Safeway, for all the neighbors save one, who have not quite forgiven me for posting an Occupy First Street on my gate back in the day. I imagine they might conjure me bare butt weeding in leather chaps wearing a tiara to scare off the crows. Still, I find them good folks because the raise beautiful loving black labs and Andie likes them. They stayed and promised to let me know if they were leaving.
Finally, last not least my loving old friend Susan Lamont and Thomas Bonfigli. Susan came all the way from Santa Rosa to help me pack and get things put in the car in anticipation that it would be difficult for me in the dark. She was right. I was so rattled by our final escape I forgot to take my insulin and left the door open wide! The screen door was closed though not allowing raccoons, possums or that local skunk family to move in. Several days later Susan brought some delicious banana bread and if you have ever eaten a Lamont baking product you can well envision the joy we felt. Andie got a bite several days later when old friend Susan Chunko, Susan Lamont and I sat in the garden on a warm autumnal day sharing war stories, life stories and dissing all the incompetent pissants and martinets that make our lives miserable.
And, then there’s Tom Bonfigli, a no BS, activist warrior after my own heart, who rescued me and Andie from freezing to death in the Safeway parking lot, gave us shelter and provided a couch to sleep on that could rival the bed in any Ritz hotel. Some days later Tom came to the door with a SOS box filled with wonderful eats and two softball sized pears from his verdant garden. Can’t thank you enough my friend for your kind and generous heart.
I want to keep this missive upbeat, but would be remiss if I didn’t express my heartbreak, disappointment and anger over the complete and incompetent treatment of those most vulnerable among us by state authorities, PG&E and the local officials: the homeless, the isolated elderly and dependent others desperately needing a kind and caring hand.
The milky, humid sky
Holds a pink sun at dawn and twilight.
A soft golden glow
Bathes the garden
In a show of exquisite light.
Our world is burning
The emerald green hills of winter
Fodder for the flames,
Which burn away
All in their path:
With only seconds to know the end,
The substance of everyday life
Gone in a roaring minute.
Nobody talks about the terrible sound
That surrounds all that is dear
Clearing the land of all living beings.
Bringing the reality of hell
Destroying all things,
Which give texture and meaning
To mortal life.
A tiny rabbit
Is pulled from a culvert
Carried down the hill
Hope spring eternal.