Is this what it feels like to be a refugee, homeless, without some basic necessities? In fact, I am an evacuee from Santa Rosa.
October 9, Monday pre-dawn, I wakened to the sound of gongs. A deep authoritative voice (the voice of God?) intoned, “This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill.” I sat up. “This is an emergency evacuation. Meet at your Emergency Bench.” I rushed to push my feet into Birkenstocks, grabbed a sweat shirt and flashlight, and, still in my pajamas, started out the door.
Stop! Catching myself in this panicked motion, I retreated into the house and shut the door. Not everyone is going to react so quickly. I needn’t hurry.
Back into the bedroom, I sat again on the side of the bed, then put on yesterday’s pair of pants, put on a t shirt and sweatshirt, didn’t care if my socks were color-coordinated, and tied the laces on walking shoes. Grabbed a nice shopping bag from behind the door and headed for the bathroom. Brushed my teeth. Dropped the tooth brush into the bag. Washed and dried my face and dropped the towel into the bag. Remembered to include tooth paste. Brushed my hair, added the hair brush. Moved to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door, and took out what was in front: half a loaf of cinnamon bread, a block of cheese, an apple, two small containers of orange juice, and my water bottle. Added a sharp knife and the iphone. Picked up the flashlight and bag, turned out the lights, considered watering the house plants, and walked out the door over to the Emergency Bench.
Others were gathering. Some with pets, a gentleman in his plaid bathrobe, several with walkers. We studied the pre-dawn sky: to the east, a dark gray and to the north a pulsing pink. “Something’s wrong,” said the man in the plaid bathrobe. Our volunteer resident warden checked our names, some offered to drive to the Sonoma County Fair Grounds, our evacuee shelter, a few miles away. I chose to be among Jack’s passengers, because Jack looked big and healthy and capable and maybe in his mid-70s.
Once in the vast parking lot, we piled out of cars, milled around with others we recognized, checked the sky. Same ominous gray and pink. Someone said, “We are surrounded by forest fires. Those 50-mile-an-hour winds last night whipped flames from one ridge to the next.”
Once inside the main building, we signed in, sat at long tables, sipped water or coffee, ate small oranges and large Costco muffins, chatted, re-assured each other. Four people played bridge at the end of one table. I was impressed with the general demeanor of the SLV residents: calm, cooperative, helpful, mildly cheerful, appreciative.
One worried woman leaned toward me and said, “I am not comfortable here. I hope we don’t have to stay long.” I, ever the cheer-leader, reminded her that we were safe, dry, had warm water, clean bathrooms, outlets to charge our iphones, food, medications, and people to care for us, and we had each other.” She looked resigned and said, “Well, as long as we don’t have to sleep here.” I didn’t point out to her that at the other end of huge space, cots were arriving.
My Santa Rosa son Sam and his wife Sandra had mandatory evacuation around two o’clock Monday morning so loaded the horses into their trailer. Sandra drove the truck/trailer, Sam drove the family car with Bubba the dog, and Sandra’s mother Betty drove her car to the parking lot at the Fair Grounds. They took nothing from their house. Not even Sam’s beautiful new guitar.
They found me among the SLV residents! A miracle! Sandra said, “Look at that sky. Darker and darker. I want outta here. We’re going to a friend’s ranch near Sebastopol. Want to come with us?” I was tempted, just to be together, but by then, I was expecting son John and Holly who were driving up from Los Altos (SF peninsula) to rescue me from the dust- and ash-laden air.
When John and Holly arrived, I signed out and we drove back to Spring Lake Village where John collected the computer, address books, and calendar from the desk. Holly closed the windows, reminded me to take the vitamins and hearing aids (which I, in my pre-dawn haste, had forgotten), and I jammed some clothes and necessities into a bag.
John drove my car and I climbed in with Holly and we were outta there. I’m safe and counting my blessings.
The first step in a long process. Now what’ll we do?