The Stouts Creek Fire had spread to 15000 acres, its south flank nearing my valley and the home where our children were born and my first husband Bruce had died. It was Sunday and we were being allowed back in to pack up more belongings. It was a drive I was glad and sad to make. There were momentos I wanted to get. But I was a bit afraid of what I might see. It turned out to be a Sunday drive that touched my heart.
We turned off I-5 and headed up Cow Creek Road, the smoke turning the sky an odd yellow and the air a silent haze of aloneness.
Galesville Reservoir sometimes strikes tourists as curious with its dead trees rising out of the water. Today the smoke framed the trees making water, sky, and mountain indistinguishable from each other in a hazy painting of gray.
The eagles who each year come back to Galesville to hatch their young could be seen above the lake. I wondered if the young were old enough to fly away yet. For now they peered over their nest at us as we took a moment to focus on life and birth.
We passed Snow Creek Road, heading up into the level three evacuation zone. Here and there fire trucks were tucked into driveways, staging for what we all hoped would never happen… fire reaching Cow Creek.
There were fewer trucks today than Friday. The weather was cooler and the fire had shifted slightly toward Drew, Oregon. Some of the fire trucks were allocated elsewhere.
That was good news which we did not expect. We knew, however, that our breather meant Drew community families sadly had joined this “club of waiting” that none of us wanted to join.
I did not know that historical buildings were wrapped with fire retardant material but I am glad the old Cow Creek Community Center was. My children went to school there; we had community meetings and food co-ops there. We did Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties and memorial services in the old wood building.
I looked at the building as we drove past, seeing beyond the smoke and silver wrapping to the faces of my neighbors over the years. Some had died. Many had grown up and moved away,coming back to visit with their children. We would meet at the Center and take the yearly community photo.
It was healing in a way that the fire crews were taking extra care with this record of our community’s lives.
Over the years, families from all over have camped here. My son Ryan and my daughter-in-law Ali were married here. Johnnie’s memorial service was held here, his children Shanti and Amber surrounded by classmates and neighbors who had watched them grow.
As we drove around the last corner toward our land, this crew of workers emerged out of the smoke. We talked to a couple of them and they had set up watering systems, cleared our land and even were hauling in holding tanks.
We went up to our homes, loading up a few more things. As we left to go back to Gold Hill, I looked back again at these fire workers who were caring for our homes.
I do not know tonight if the fire will still take our home but I go to sleep with awe and appreciation for those folks out there. They touched my heart.