Last week my town burned. As did the towns and cities around me - Santa Paula, Oak View, Casitas Springs, Ventura, Fillmore, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito and into Santa Barbara. The fire is named Thomas and it skirted it's way over ridges and down into valleys, along highways and roadways and jumped over concrete to reach it's hand towards the beach past Mussel Shoals. It rode on Santa Ana winds, fast and focused and moving at speeds that nobody expected. Because that is what fire does. It grew from small to over 230,000 acres in seven short days. It is burning still as it makes it's way along the ridges of national forest land and fills the sky with falling ash.
I think we were some of the first to leave the lower valley - myself and my husband, my cat and my dog. And our neighbors who live along the road that sits nestled against a hillside and shares its land with Upper Ojai. Vast and open space, Upper Ojai was already burning before we knew there was a fire even. It had come up upon them from opposite where our valley sits.
When we did know there was a fire, we stayed awake to watch on line but finally, at midnight, I could not keep my eyes open and made my way to bed. My dog and I. Only to have my husband wake me up not even an hour later with Lizzie, we need to evacuate.
I had already put our passports and our birth certificates along with my toothbrush in a bag to take with me. Just in case. This bag and my cat and my dog and my husband was all I needed.
My son spoke about this in the yoga classes that he taught this past week. I had shared with him that in that moment when I had to think about what was important there was little attachment to anything that was a thing. I had my life partner, my soul dog, my spirit cat. I had our passports because you are always supposed to take your passports. And a folder with our birth certificates because Faith's was in there and the written documentation of her name evolution from Erin to Faith was the key to something important. I still am not sure what that is. And I had my toothbrush which needs no explanation at all.
My son, in his class, talked about my reptilian brain - my primitive, instinctive brain. My powerful and oldest brain. He talked about this in his class as a lesson on what is important.
For this brain knew, in that moment what that was. That I only needed those few things. And truthfully if I had left the bag on the table that would have been ok, too.
We went back home the next day. Tuesday. The fire had not made it down the mountain yet to edge along the land behind my home. We went back home and still only a few things called for me to take them out of harms way. I grabbed clothing I would need to keep warm when I walked my dog. I took my three pieces of jewelry. And a second pair of jeans to wear if we were gone a long time.
And then we were gone. Again
Tuesday night the fires came. Over the rise from Upper Ojai and down the hillside, mocking the houses that lived against the overgrown branches and grasses that hadn't seen fire for so many years. The fire crews came and saved our home. We learned this from a neighbor who stayed on his land, next to ours, and worked alongside our fire angels. And so I got updates as the night played out against the fire's fitful dance. And I did not know till morning if my house had made it through.
I woke up before morning and walked myself, in my minds eye, through my house. And saw only a few more things that I should have taken with me. Included in these things were clothes. A pair of pants that I love. And a sweater, too. A dress and a lace shirt that is more like a slip. And just one pair of shoes.
Anyone who knows me know that I love my clothes. They are art to me. I have written about them many times. I have written about them and I have written about how I take care of them. My closet is my safe place. And so for me to pull, from the full hanging rods of cotton and silk, wool and denim, only a few carefully chosen pieces means something.
This was no longer that ancient and wise brain thinking now. This was my new and present brain. The brain that puts value on things. The brain that is not just in survival mode but has time to think and process and second guess, too. And this brain, it still only picked just those few items. Because it knew - because I know - that there are only a very few things really, in all of the items that we own, that matter that much.
To me they are pieces of clothing. That are more than pieces of clothing. For you they may be a bracelet that was your great aunt's or a painting found in a small shop in a sweet town in a country far from ours. Maybe it is that handprint of your child when they were young or a photograph at your wedding or the newspaper eulogy of your mom or dad.
What we value is so deep in us. And so unique to us. And the gift that is this burning is that it rids us - just as it clears away the underbrush so that we can see the dirt below - of the superficial. This burning is a cleansing. And now we see what is important.
And so now what do I do with this?
In what direction will I walk, as I walk the scarred and ash filled land above my home? What will move me forward as I help move forward those who lost so much more than me? Where will I put my focus, my intention, my passion and my energy as I focus love and support on this town that sat within a circle of fire?
Because from this burning comes opportunity. And possibility. And new growth. Always new growth.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Rower, Runner, Dog and Cat lover.