Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Smoke Gets in Your…Everything

When I was a child, the most terrifying horror movie I ever saw was THE ROBE, starring Charleton Heston. For years I suffered from nightmares of murderous swirls of smoke that snaked through houses killing the firstborn. I wasn’t the firstborn, but I figured you couldn’t be too careful. Mistakes happen. Don’t take life for granted. I also concluded that murdering a lot of innocent babies was a lousy way to make a point.

As I grew, fire seemed like a friend. Singing around a campfire in between eating gooey roasted marshmallows made a fun evening with family and often strangers, too. When the smoke became perverse enough to target me regardless of where I sat, that was part of the game, and it made my clothes smell woodsy. More seriously, I met a girl at summer camp one year who told us her house had burned down, so she didn’t own a single sentimental possession—no photos, no heirlooms, no favorite clothes. My friends and I were aghast, although we couldn’t really fathom the depths of her experience. We could only cringe at the impact of it that pooled as silent sorrow in her eyes.

Now I live in the west, and gigantic wildfires that wipe out entire neighborhoods and even towns aren’t unusual—neither are the floods which burned foliage can’t prevent. So far, disaster has happened only to someone else. We had a friend who bought a piece of land that commanded a magnificent view of a lush mountain valley. As his house was built, we sighed when we considered how lucky he was to have a patio surrounded by so much splendor. But a wildfire raged that year. Two of the volunteer firefighters lost their dogs and their log home that had been built by the wife’s great grandfather—destroyed while the firefighters were beside other members of the department struggling to contain the fire elsewhere. In contrast, the new home of the guy on the hill was saved almost at his door. He retained an expansive view of the charred valley.

Only once thus far have I felt personally at risk. My husband was working many miles distant. I could see the ominous flickering orange glow of approaching flames on the horizon. I filled a suitcase with our important papers, keepsake jewelry, some favorite photos, my laptop with manuscript, and underwear. People might donate clothes for us, but I wanted our own underwear. I pulled out our cat carrier, knowing our dogs would follow me when I arranged all of us in my car, and settled water and bags of pet food in the back seat with the suitcase. Then I waited, wishing my husband were near, steeling myself if the order came and I had to drive to safety. The order didn’t come.

Yesterday as my husband drove me home from my first post-op appointment, the reliably inspiring panorama of the front range of the Rocky Mountains beneath the banner of the setting sun was gone, hidden away beneath banks of rusty, dusty smoke that blew across the pass from New Mexico. If there had been no road, we might have become disoriented. We seemed to be traveling into a level of Hell, except that we had thus far been spared from flames. Currently, hundreds of thousands of acres are burning in New Mexico—threatening some of our favorite places. For us in southern Colorado, the smoke is a warning…or maybe a threat that gains better odds with time. No one breathes ash without repercussions. One of our neighbors remarked that we’ll be next to burn. One day the spot fires near us will escape all bounds. My husband and I made a silent promise to ourselves to do all we can to avoid such a fate—even if we have to offend tourists who feel empowered to risk our lives and homes with lit cigarettes they toss aside.

As disasters proliferate—caused by both nature and selfish people, I’m reminded of the advice I gave myself as a child: Don’t take life for granted. Don’t take the beauty and bounty of the Earth for granted, either. Responsibility falls to whomever realizes the need. “Someone else” isn’t always the victim.

One comment on “Smoke Gets in Your…Everything

  1. Frances Sullivan
    May 15, 2022

    Stunning and haunting with wise advice to keep us on track. xo

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