The first time I heard that phrase, up from the ashes, I was nine years old. In 1936, the town of Bandon, 18 miles down river from our Coquille, in southwestern Oregon, burned. The Irish Furze (Gorse) was pitchy and brittle and the winds high. My parents’ friends came to our house with what they could retrieve from their homes, and stayed for a while. After the fire, I heard them talking about rebuilding up from the ashes.
Now, after the fires that ripped through neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, I hear that phrase again. It will take years to recover. The immediate need is to find housing for the hundreds of homeless people. People who have lost everything!
We 430 residents who were evacuated within one and a half hours on the morning of Monday, October 9, are back. Everything here at Spring Lake Village looks just as nice, just as orderly and cheerful as it did a month ago, before the fires. The emphasis is on the well-being of those of us who live here. Yesterday in the monthly Transitions meeting, we told our stories. What happened, what we did, what we thought and felt.
What we are feeling now. What was difficult for us and what would we have done if SLV had burned? The minute that question was asked, one woman teared up. She told us she had moved here in September, found a nice boarding stable for her horse, and was adjusting well to her new life. She had not yet heard of the emergency drills, the to-go bag, the benches designated as gathering places in case of emergency. The evacuation and her concern for her horse were traumatic and she hadn’t once thought of what would happen if she lost everything.
One man said that if SLV had burned, he would consider moving to Bali, or better yet, to Thailand. He and his wife like the weather there. He said the food is good and they have friends in Thailand. I was cheered by his remarks; I had thought if I had to, I’d go to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, at least until I had things figured out.
What of my lost belongings would I mourn? Actually, sentimental as I am over my family treasures, I probably would be fine without them. I might collect the insurance and just live on cruise ships for the next 10 to 14 years. Come back whenever a new great grandchild was born. And for Christmas. One Christmas I tried being away and spent more than an hour sitting in the tropical sun on a friend’s patio steps, talking on the phone to family.
What was hard during this recovery time? Sleepless nights, bad dreams, weepiness, lack of ability to focus, increased appetite for ice cream.
I told of a friend whom I had asked what was difficult for her. She had sighed and told me, “The other day, I had a hard time maneuvering the (golf) cart. There were so many downed leaves and little branches left from the winds that scattered the fires, I could barely go. She leaned toward me, put her hand on my arm for emphasis, and scowled. “I almost couldn’t get to the thirteenth tee.” I had thought of the enormous losses suffered by so many and could only look at her without comment.
What changes have we noticed in ourselves? Many spoke of their increased awareness and gratitude for safe family and friends. One noticed how much brighter and lovelier the autumn leaves seem this year. Some feel guilty for their good fortune and have become compulsively involved in helping others. Agencies are warehousing and distributing clothing and household supplies that have flooded in from local residents and merchants.
Toward the end of our Transitions meeting, one resident offered, “There are changes and there are transitions. When we allow the changes to change us, we are transitioned. I think that is what has happened with us.”
Someone else offered, “Remember when our three-year-old children would lean into our leg and grab hold? They did that when they were confused or hurt or in some way needed our strength. I think that we have leaned closer to God.”