Thursday, 7 May 2009

Of Fire and Impermanence

There are several wildfires burning in and around our area this very dry Spring. Two days ago, the fire was within a few miles of our place: the picture to the right is the view from the top of our driveway that evening. There were burnt pine needles and ash floating around and down - we could see them on our driveway and sidewalk. We've had fires around here before, but never one so close that we had ash floating down on us. That evening, we received news that both the mandatory and recommended evacuation areas were expanding, and that they would likely include us. So, we started packing.

Making things even more interesting was the fact that I had just picked Gord up from the hospital a few hours earlier, having been released that day following hip surgery earlier in the week. So we packed even more lightly than we otherwise would have, since any time we had after receiving evacuation notice would be better spent getting Gord and our two guinea pigs into the car rather than putting any material goods in there. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

We had our garden hoses hooked up to the taps outside, and fire extinguishers at both doors. I had the car turned around in the driveway, ready to head out if we got the word to leave. About halfway through the evening our telephone landline died, lending an even stranger tone to the evening. We have poor cell phone service but managed to call my parents to make arrangements to stay with them if necessary.

What do you pack when your house might burn down and as a set you can't move very quickly? As it turns out, not very much. Looking around the house while packing, there wasn't a lot that I decided was essential. I packed a change of clothes and some toiletries, an emergency radio, the mortgage papers, a handwritten book of recipes from my mom, our wedding photos and DVD, an album of childhood pictures, and that was about all. Gord hobbled around on crutches getting together his laptop, external hard drive and some business papers. We had our guinea pig carriers and some guinea pig food at the ready as well.

It was a strange evening, watching the news on TV, wishing the phone would start working again, checking Twitter and the internet for updates, listening for a knock on the door from the firefighters telling us we had to go. Thankfully, that knock never came, but needless to say we did not have a restful night.

Today, two days later, most of our gathered things remain packed and by the door. Phone service is restored. The fires have not gotten bigger, but are still burning close by. The ash has stopped falling from the sky, and the winds have died down. There was even a bit of rain overnight, and some more again today. We hope that in the next couple days the fires will be put out or at least become controlled.

The whole "wildfire coming this way" experience got me thinking. Most profoundly, about how much of the stuff I have that I didn't even consider packing - which is 99.99% of the stuff I have. And about how quickly things can, and do, change. One minute we're looking forward to just getting comfy and watching the hockey game, and the next minute we're getting ready to bug out in a hurry, maybe for a good long time.

Nothing's permanent, anything can change at any time. Getting a hands-on lesson about this was a good thing, and it sure does make me appreciate the here-and-now in a much more authentic way. The trick is to remember this even when the ash has stopped falling from the sky!

21 comments:

Liz said...

As I read what you packed up, I noticed that, like you say, you chose pictures and your Mum's handwritten recipes to take with you, along with a few essentials. The simple things really are the truest, aren't they?

I hope the fires die down, and you, your family and your neighbours stay safe. If I could send some of this darn rain your way, I would. :o)

Theresa said...

Hi Liz - yes, it was a very interesting experience, watching myself as I packed. I found out what "essential" really means to me. Thanks for the well-wishes - the weather is cooperating and things seem to be improving today.

Eco Yogini said...

I'm glad to hear that the fires haven't gotten bigger and that you are still in your home (allowing Gord some more time to recover).

There was a wildfire here in Halifax last week actually... it was strangely right next to a upper class subdivision and within an hour residents were evacuating... no notice (flames were outside their windows type thing). 8 houses were lost and 140 families were out of a home.

People being interviewed said things like: I grabbed my computer on my way out... or now all my stuff is gone!!

Funny how some people (you) are ready to let go of the "stuff" and others truly aren't.

I hope life stays safe for you!

Theresa said...

I heard about that fire in Halifax, EcoYogini - the pictures on TV were quite spectacular. It was raining again just a little while ago, so I think things will be ok. I did feel ready to let those things go when we had to pack up, but I'm not sure if my equanimity would have held entirely if I did see the whole place go up in flames...

SoapBoxTech said...

I was JUST thinking about this, and about about you. I am glad to hear that you're alright so far. Its a few hours away here, but know that you have somewhere to go if need be.

Are you getting any rain this evening like here?

Theresa said...

Thanks SBT - that is uncommonly kind of you and very much appreciated. We are getting some rain here tonight as well, although it's coming with some lightning and thunder at times. I'm hoping the rain does more good than the lightning does damage. So far, so good...

Heather @ SGF said...

Impermanence has to be the hardest of human lessons and it's always a good reminder. I was listening to my favorite buddhist nun talk about it today. Intellectually, we get it, but emotionally it's tough...

Theresa said...

Who is your favorite Buddhist nun, Heather? (Uh oh, have I asked you that before and now forgotten? My memory is one of the most impermanent things of all!)

Heather @ SGF said...

Robina Courtin. I can't get enough of her!

Theresa said...

Thanks Heather - I will look her up!

Heather @ SGF said...

She has an old series of podcasts on iTunes and if you search for her online, you can find a ton of her lectures. I've listened to a lot of teachers and she's the one person I can listen to over and over again. She inspires me and always get something new out of each lecture, even if I've heard it before.

She's AWESOME!

sensiblevermonter said...

An unsettling experience, yet eye-opening. What an unexpected combination of events and feelings. I hope everything gets put out soon so you and all other area neighbors are safe. I'll keep my fingers crossed for rain up there.

Maggie said...

So glad you are all safe Theresa.
We heard Robina Courtin talk here in Adelaide this year, I like her teachings too.

kale for sale said...

I'm glad you guys are okay. I had a fire quite close to my home once and never considered the possibility of what I would take if necessary and I was frozen. Sick to my stomach and frozen. I've since run through the scenario every few months so I'd be better preprared. Not to say that I actually would be however. It's scary. Thanks for the reminder to stay present. I forget a lot.

Theresa said...

Thanks SensibleV - the local state of emergency is still in effect, but the fire is controlled today, mostly burning underground. It was a strange alignment of events, definitely.

Maggie - I have found some Robina Courtin on the web - I will download and listen to some of her stuff later today - looking forward to it! (I might have to get one of these fancy MP3 thingies one day so I can listen to them other than while sitting in front of my desktop!)

K4S - I think all my 'doomy' preparedness stuff really helped in this situation. It was like, Ok, this is essential, this is not, let's pack the car, put this by the door, etc. Gord was fantastic too, being practical and saying put this and that together over there, connect the garden hoses, etc. We just did it, together. It was weird yet cool at the same time.

EJ said...

I would take photos of my bookshelves and other things that I might want to replace. Hoping it would help with insurance.

Early for fire season to start! Hope its over for now.
I always rest a little bit easier come fall rains, but to start worrying in May would be hard!

Theresa said...

EJ - taking pictures of everything: what a brilliant idea! That would help immensely with insurance.

It is indeed an early start to fire season. We had a lot of snow but it melted quickly and then the winds came before anything greened up. We had some rain over the past couple of days, and more is expected this week, so I am hopeful that things will improve.

SoapBoxTech said...

Last year was soooo dry. No wonder with all the water getting sucked out of the south and the NE.

Did you get rain today?

Theresa said...

No rain yesterday, a little bit today. On my way to the CSA farm I saw a lot of burnt trees, and some roads were still closed...

Amber said...

Theresa, I'm relieved to hear that you and Gord are doing well and the fire isn't getting any bigger or closer. Wishing for more rain and safety for you and all those living in the area.

Theresa said...

Thanks Amber - it actually snowed a little bit today (!) and they have lifted the evacuation order and the state of emergency - whew! Glad that is over, at least for now.