Those who aren’t severely affected by wildfires to the point of being evacuated temporarily or permanently from their homes, and who continue to go about their usual work, might still be vaguely or acutely affected by smoke. Some of my family in northern California and southern Oregon have had weeks of smoke that keeps them indoors, makes the sky dark and the air muggy. Even here, my eyes are scratchy. It all has a distracting and depressing effect, though one is not always fully conscious of it.
But this morning my daughter Pippin exclaimed, “Today, the sky is blue!” and sent a photo to prove it. I had recently joined in one blog draft a photo she took in England and a poem, which I’m publishing in celebration of blue skies. They are currently a welcome background for sheep or clouds or what have you.
When I came forth this morn I saw
Quite twenty cloudlets in the air;
And then I saw a flock of sheep,
Which told me how these clouds came there.
That flock of sheep, on that green grass,
Well might it lie so still and proud!
Its likeness had been drawn in heaven,
On a blue sky, in silvery cloud.
I gazed me up, I gazed me down,
And swore, though good the likeness was,
‘Twas a long way from justice done
To such white wool, such sparkling grass.
Before I returned home from my travels,
a little rain had washed the ashes off much of my garden.
I had turned off the fountain before my departure, and the rainwater that was left in the bowl had cinders at the bottom. It occurred to me that they might be bits of my goddaughter’s house that burned to the ground and released some of itself into the wind during the incineration.
Thank God, almost all of the northern California fires are contained. We no longer have smoke burning our eyes and lungs, and roads and neighborhoods have opened up daily, but thousands of people lost their homes and/or jobs and businesses and many are still looking for a place to live.
When we talk to our friends or even strangers, we start by finding out how they were affected. Everyone has stories of that morning of October 9th, and every day still I think of someone new that I need to check on with an email or text message.
In the whole of California, a thousand firefighters are still on task, and at the peak of the season 11,000 were fighting. They came from as far away as New York, Florida and Australia, bless their souls. We’ve had 6400 fires in the state this season, which burned 556,000 acres, much more than last year.
But my neighborhood did not burn, and I haven’t seen the destruction close-up yet. I’m walking my creek paths as before.
I’ve also jumped back into parish life:
Last weekend I cooked our Sunday Agape Meal for 100 people. You might remember that I did this twice before as a memorial for my husband; this time it was not for any special occasion. It consisted of 10 gallons of meaty chili with lots of vegetables, served over squares of creamy polenta, with tossed green salad on the side; sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish.
I had a few helpers to do prep work for me on Saturday, and a few others to help me serve Sunday after the service. This combination was a hit, so maybe I will do it again. Each time I’ve cooked like this has been a little easier, so maybe I can start doing it more often.
Sunday evening we held a Celebration of the Saints party for which children could dress up and tell the stories of the saint they were representing. We had crafts and a soup dinner and it was so low-key and relaxing, with none of the hype and over-stimulation that always makes me wince on behalf of the little ones. I was privileged to help a little boy named Marcus work out his idea for a needle-felted pumpkin with fried-egg eyes that morphed into even thicker stars.
When we communion bread bakers showed up for duty on Tuesday morning we soon realized it was the feast day of our patron saints! Saints Spryidon and Nikodim are communion bread bakers from way back who watch over our baking from their icon each week, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the honor of baking prosphora, the bread of offering, on their day. It was very special, and we arranged an informal photo-shoot for the occasion.
Icons and saints graced my day today, also, thanks to my housemate Kit. I think I told you she is moving back to Oregon from where she came two years ago to live with me and be a blessing. Before she takes her final load of stuff north in a few days she wanted to visit San Francisco once more, and invited me.
We visited Holy Virgin Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovitch, and also walked to the chapel and house where he lived, where one can sit in a little room with the icons and desk and chair that were his own, where he prayed. That my young friend and I could share this last holy experience together is just one more cord that binds us in the Holy Spirit.
We enjoyed just being in the city and not trying to accomplish too much. Visited the Wells Fargo History Museum which is wonderfully free and fascinating. Craned our necks to see the sky when walking downtown; and ate dim sum for the first time, with exquisite fried mochi sesame buns.
Driving in traffic to and in San Francisco is normally a trial, but today’s outing was relaxing and soul-nourishing. I drove and Kit navigated, and we were compatible sight-seers in every way. The next week will be just as busy as the last one has been, so I’ll be glad to sleep soon on the pillow of peace.
I’m breathing deeply of the cool and clean air that blows off of Lake Michigan, while my friends at home in northern California are wearing masks against the smoke that has filled the skies for a week now. Months ago I’d planned a trip to visit my oldest daughter Pearl and her family in their new home here in Wisconsin, and though I felt it necessary to delay my departure by a couple of days, I was finally glad to get out of town.
As soon as I boarded the bus that would take me to the airport, I began to relax, and when I did, and began to drop the burdens I’d been carrying, I felt the ache I’d been unconscious of before, and almost wept from the relief.
My eyes stopped burning as soon as I boarded the airplane, and what peace to sleep in a quiet neighborhood that night, with nothing threatening anywhere.
I’ve been taking walks with Pearl, visiting Port Washington with everyone after church, and in particular enjoying the wind and rain. Today I took a solitary walk and found a convocation of geese assembling by the little lake I can see from my bedroom window.
Of the grandchildren in this family, only Maggie and the Philosopher are still at home these days, both in high school. They introduced me to cheese curds and shared a few hugs already. We played Apples to Apples and laughed and laughed.
Back at my home, housemate Susan has a box of my important papers and things that she will take for me if she has to evacuate; with so many firefighters on task now and no high winds, it seems unlikely for my neighborhood. But four families I know have had their houses burn to the ground, and scores of friends have been evacuated.
The first night in Wisconsin I didn’t sleep too well, but after a walk and a nap, the second night I logged ten hours of deep rest. Then I woke feeling brand new, or like my old self. I’ll be here a few more days, and maybe will write again before the next stage of this journey.
I live in the area where high winds whipped up 60 different fires in a few hours early Monday (yesterday) morning. My neighborhood was on alert to evacuate, but that never became necessary. In this part of Northern California just north of San Francisco Bay, scores of my friends are among the 20,000 people who have been evacuated, and the homes of at least two families dear to me have burned to the ground.
Many hundreds of structures were destroyed yesterday, but fires are still burning and uncontained and it’s impossible to know at this point what the full extent of the damage will be, or how many lives will have been lost. Though we are all in shock at the speed and extent of this destruction all around us, everyone I know is thankful for the love and support, and continued existence, of their friends and family. I wanted you all to know that I am okay.