I am learning the lesson that I believe my ancestors never had to be taught. Knowing and KNOWING are different things.
Two years ago I moved to Orange County, California where the sun almost always shines and if I open my front door I can usually smell the ocean. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.
Yesterday I noticed big, orange clouds gathering in the distance. Odd in the land of sun, but I guess not unheard of. Then I smelled it. Smoke. Fires.
Now that we have instant answers at our fingertips I could learn quickly that a brush fire had started two hours earlier. It was in the canyons in the eastern part of the county, far away, but the winds were sending the smoke and ash my way.
I knew that I was fine, but I packed a little GO bag anyway because being prepared can help relax the belt that tightens around my heart when I’m afraid.
Then my phone alarmed with a notice to evacuate. No, not for me but close enough that my phone alarm blared and bright red flashed across the screen.
It was a long afternoon.
More ash fell and gradually the sky cleared a bit. By the time I walked my dog before bed the air was misty, leaving us a little damp as we walked. Blurry halos formed around the street lights, with a grounding smell of dirt as the dog scratched the grass and when the breeze stirred, a finger of jasmine, too.
I turned on the 11 o’clock news. What a mistake. The fire was so big and so fast. People had lost homes, whole hillsides had burned and sent their embers to the next hillside which then burned.
It was a long night.
I chided myself. This wasn’t a tornado or an earthquake that once enroute was sure to come my way. This was a fire that was many miles away. I live where dry grasses don’t exist! We have landscaping, people, landscaping! But I was still afraid. The smell, the smoke, the ash; some switch inside me had turned on and was flashing DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!
It wasn’t until this morning that I let up on myself a little. No, I wasn’t afraid for no reason.
When I was six weeks old we had a house fire that nearly destroyed our home. I grew up finding broken glass in the front garden from the windows the firefighters broke to get fire hoses in the house, our encyclopedia set had the outline of a bookshelf imprinted on one cover from smoke damage, and there was a clear “before the fire” and “after the fire” in the family stories.
Then when I was five the neighbor’s house burned. I was with them every morning before Kindergarten while my mom went to work. The babysitter sent me back into the smoke-filled house to pull the baby out of his crib while she called the fire department. I remember having a hard time getting him out. When the fire was out they could see the outline of his body on the sheets. I couldn’t let my mother out of my sight for months.
My body knows, or better said it KNOWS. My body remembers. My body knows when to be afraid, when to prepare, when to run. May I remember to settle in and listen a little more closely when my body calls to me. May I hold the wisdom in my bones as counsel for the future.
Today, may all in the path of this fire be well and whole. And may we all breathe a little easier tomorrow.