On more than one occasion, I’ve mentioned the family business here on my blog. I do a lot of work for it, I live in the middle of it, and it’s a combination of home/family/profession. Well, on the 13th of August, we were evacuated due to a threat of wildfire. We returned to sleep in our own beds on August 24th. Eleven days. That’s when I started drafting this particular blog post.
Little did I know that the fire that had raged to our north and west had only gone to sleep for a spell.
Exactly one month after our first evacuation, we fled with fire nipping at our heels. What had been a 24-hour notice and a 4-hour evacuation turned into no notice and 1 hour to get out of Dodge.
Coming home the first time was a shock. Trees I had known my whole life were just… gone. Buildings stood empty and echoing like some ghostly reminder of the busy summer business that had died so the fire could live.
Coming home the second time was like a physical blow.
I will remember the moment I first saw the enormous burn-scar across the ridge above my house for the rest of my life. It was during a brief foray into the evacuation zone with the permission of the authorities: we were driving up the twisting dirt road, around the curve where we got our first good look at the mountain, and BAM! My father slowed the car to a crawl. Our good friend/employee leaned forward and stared as if he could spy the damage to either our house or the rest of the property from over a mile away.
It felt like my heart stopped.
That was my mountain. That was my backyard. That was where I’d run and played with my brothers, hiked up it for Mother’s day as a family, and where I’d trained my horse.
We drove in and got the things we needed to get. Then we drove to the house. It was untouched. In fact, standing in our driveway, nestled in the trees, you couldn’t see where the fire had touched at all. Then we walked out to look at the ridge.
The fire had come within a few hundred feet of our back door, taking some trees, leaving others. Blood-red fire retardant spattered the aspen, like some sick metaphor for the fight that had been waged against the wildfire. We walked through ashen landscapes, once familiar, but now alien to our eyes.
During the evacuation, I’d spent much of my time reading a recent work published by Christopher Tolkien. Reading about the flames of Melkor, the fires of war, and the smoke of evil… it hit home. The peculiar effect of this was a certain rephrasing of my circumstances in a more Tolkien-esque fashion.
Remembering how Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippen felt when they returned to a burnt shire, now, that almost broke my heart altogether. Becuase Tolkien knew exactly what this felt like.
This was my home. This was where it was always safe and beautiful, full of light and joy. It was where the aspens towered golden every autumn, where I could ride over hill and dale on my horse and pretend that if I ran fast enough, there wasn’t a single problem I couldn’t leave in the dust, where every memory of my childhood resided. This place is more than just a house and business on a nice piece of property – it’s a part of my identity. Between the destruction the fire wrought on trees and land and the disruption in our lives, it felt as though that safe, sacred, special place had been sacked. Just like in the end of Lord of the Rings.
But if Sam could return to his burnt Shire and plant the seed from Lorien in place of the ruined Party Tree – even through his tears – then I could return to my burnt home and help restore it. It will take time, but it will be a shining jewel of the mountains again. The snow will settle, the rain will wash away the black, and spring will come once more.