Nothing grabs your attention like hearing the phone ring, picking up the receiver, saying “hello,” and then having the neighbor across the street excitedly tell you that he has just called 911 because there is a wildfire burning a few lots down from you. The neighbor was out of breath because he had noticed smoke, went to check it out, and ended up trying to put it out with a garden house (the people whose house the fire had started next to weren’t home).
Laurel was in town, so I left a message at one of her likely stops, LifeSource Natural Foods, asking the staff to tell her that a wildfire was burning nearby, so, if it wasn’t too much trouble, she might consider coming home as soon as possible. At a high speed, she did. Interesting…how we’ve been following the fortunes of the Booth Fire (see posting below) all week, worrying that our shared cabin might go up in flames, and suddenly I wasn’t concerned about that at all—our own house instantly becoming a much higher priority.
Lots of smoke was visible across the thick brush and tall fir trees that lay between us and the fire. It was an adrenalin rush, to be sure, running around gathering hoses from hither and yon and attaching them to faucets on the fire side of our lot. It gave me a small feeling of what firefighters go through everyday. That is, it is damn hard work when the temperature is nearly 90 degrees. And I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, not a full firefighting outfit. And I was hauling garden hoses, not much heavier firefighting hoses.
Fairly soon, I heard sirens, a comforting sound. A bit later Laurel screeched into the driveway, having gotten my message at LifeSource, and having left her intended soymilk purchase lying on the checkout counter. We started wetting down dry grass and brush, then turned to greet a fire truck turning into our driveway. “Have you seen any flames?” we were asked. “No,” we said, “just smoke.” And then they drove out of the driveway. I took that to be a good sign.
When the smoke seemed to be decreasing, I hopped on my bike and rode down to the fire scene, where I found two EMTs lounging next to their ambulance, and a bunch of fire trucks watering down the remains of a brush fire. The EMTs told me that the fire had been “beaten down,” or some such fire lingo, so I rode back to Laurel and told her she could put down the hose she was sprinkling with.
After the evacuation of Camp Sherman we had thought, “What do people take when they only are able to fill up their car with belongings?” I am mildly embarrassed (but only mildly) to admit that, before we started hosing down the grass/brush, I ran down to my office, unhooked my laptop computer, and put it in my car—just in case. Family photos, nah. Meaningful mementos, nah. Computer files, oh yeah, those have to be saved. Hey, that’s my/our life in that hard drive. Book manuscripts. Financial files. Names/addresses/email info. My archive of Hines Family Christmas Letters. All important stuff—and one more reason to use a laptop. If a fire starts next door, you don’t want to be hauling around your heavy desktop computer tower.
All is quiet now. It’s time to go to the store and pick up a part for the toilet, which has been leaking. Earlier today I thought it was a big pain to have to fix the toilet. Now it seems like a joy, compared to the much bigger pain that we avoided this afternoon. Near-disasters remind us what is really important (a lightweight laptop computer) and what isn’t (everything else in the house, other than Laurel and Serena, the family dog). May this anecdote help remind us all to attend to what we really care about, right now!, because you never know how long it will be around to attend to.
Lastly: I heard this quote from Henry Kaiser on a talk show yesterday, and had to look it up on the Internet. He reportedly said, “Put your life's plan into determined action. Go after what you want with all that's in you.” Good advice.