Cameron Peak Fire

Pocket the Ash

Rummaging through the blue bin of snow clothes, I grabbed gloves and a hat before stepping into the backyard. Leaves demanded attention before flurries of snow arrived according to winter weather warnings.

Red rakes sat in the shed, waiting to be pulled from the pile of worn wooden handles still warm from lingering unseasonal, summer-like heat. I wrestled with tines of tools, ready to tuck the garden into its rustling bed of leaves.

Muscling orange and red matter into piles took three hours yesterday. Using rakes and shovels, I pulled towards my center, mixtures of grass and sticks and tired life. With each scrape of the earth, up swirled too, tiny puffs of black lifted and landed. Wisps of crisped needles and incinerated pines lifted into the air, into my nose, making me sneeze and weep. Despite our best efforts, the air demands we inhale what’s left, leaving traces of particles in our lungs.

Remnants of burned wild flowers and earth mixed with city maples and aspen leaf imposters. Wildfires burn nature’s backyard – the setting of my wild adventures of youth and family traditions forever changed by the swat of loss. Can memories burn as sense of place is destroyed?

Someone posted a few days ago about the sacredness of these ashes settling our concrete patios and smearing white streaks on our windshields. May we not disconnect the black piles of soot and grit from the immense loss up canyon roads.

As Dylan increased pressure on the leaf blower, blackened piles swirled up into mini plumes of darkened ash. Moving forward, he used his tool to blow the left over bits across the driveway and into the street. I watched the as the mess moved, mirroring the magnificent blooms of smoke seen from airplanes, thousands of miles up into plum purple skies.

It’s insensitive, perhaps, to have hope in the hurting so soon. My body feels the magnitude of life and livelihood turning to vapor among flames. Having experienced significant unraveling, I ask, what beauty is found in the sweeping of what’s left into tiny piles? May the act of smearing the grit on our fingers be a beautiful thing?

I felt my father’s ashes land on my toes. I watched his grit swirl with the wind and land, eventually, on cracked, dry earth. I witnessed urns burning in controlled fires as a summer ink sky turn speckled with stars.

The destruction is horrifying. The longing for what could have been, pervasive.

The honoring and remembering? Sacred.

Sweep what’s left into piles. Place the white and black smears on your altars of hope. In the wonderings of what’s next and how will we ever recovers, know this to be true – What was will never return.

We weep for this truth.

Using your fingers to pile, gather, pull towards you the mix of earth and sticks and dead things crisped. Move among the ash.

What will be is still left to be seen.

Today, snow falls in tiny flakes blanketing heat in white. I pray the moisture douses the flames and the burning will cease. And that we all may create space, with the tender embrace, for the gaping. Stand witness. Sweep up what’s left. Pocket the ash. Honor the scar. Hard, beautiful things.

As The Darkness Descends

I now obsessively click on inciweb, checking the status of evacuations and wind patterns and burn scars up the canyons close by.

With the fires mere miles away from my home, I spent the weekend nervous and wondering. I signed up for text alerts and began making lists of items we would take should we get a call that could change our life.

My prayers centered on surrender and asking for protection. While I prayed, people in my community lost their homes. Whole lives burned up as bricks stood witness to the incineration.

New fires sparked further down the Front Range cooridor and I ask, “Is being witness enough?”

And if my witnessing is filtered through a screen, liberal media outlets, and through the stories on my social media feeds? Does this count as standing witness to pain?

I know what it’s like to get a phone call that can change your life. I also know what it’s like to hunker down and wait, with bated breath, for the wind to shift.

I’m trying to balance panic with presence. Reframe what could be to what is. Taking moments to identify the gifts residing in this natural disaster space.

Community members rally together to raise funds for those who have lost livelihoods.

Voters wait for hours to fill in bubbles with black ink.

The laundry is done and the sourdough is active.

I use my words to meditate – sending hope and love and peace to myself and others.

As I become accustomed to skies darkening with smoke, I slice oranges and lemons and toss them into a pot with cinnamon and cloves. Cool water covers the mixture and simmers slightly on my stove, trying to reclaim the air with fresh scents.

Ash rains down, falling in thin layers on my back patio, reminding me an essential part of my human experience is surrender.

I can click refresh but I can’t change the outcome. I can sweep away the mess, but things have still burned. The remnants smear black on concrete.

So much has turned to ash this year. Plans and dreams. Jobs and homes. Trust and a sense of safety. Community. Connection. A sense of time.

The other day I was checking the status of an online order we placed in August. The stressed customer service agent shared plans for the item to ship on October 20th. I texted Dylan, “Think we’ll get it before Christmas?”

His response?

“Christmas is really not that far away.”

I suppose he’s not wrong.

I’d forgotten it WAS October 20th. My brain is still stuck in April. Or September. I did grow a garden, right? Who knows if we’ll holiday, or give thanks over cardboard takeout containers. Wouldn’t it be alright to take a pass on tradition this year? Nothing else has been conventional. I’m not willing to risk a life for a turkey dinner.

The days are growing shorter and the nights are now long. I’m working on turning off my screens and taming my clicking finger’s tick to satisfy the need to know more of the madness we’re witnessing.

I’ll be here, turning on warm lights inside as the darkness descends. May that be a beautiful thing.