Monday, August 26, 2013

staying put

facebook asked me what was on my mind, so i put a picture gallery of the rim fire up there but didn't say anything. for a couple of weeks now we've been watching that enormous fire creep closer to my in-laws' village of twain harte, ca, and it's caused a bit of anxiety around our house as my wife basically pressures her parents to bail out but they don't. though i've visited the place twice, i don't know it real well, but i've been learning more of its geography as each new valley succumbs to the roaring flames of the advancing fire. the terrain is rugged. there is lots of dead lumber all over the woods that is burning right up.

twain harte is about 90 miles from yosemite, but that's the 90 miles that are on fire. the fire has crept into yosemite on the east, up above cherry lake on the north, down toward coulterville on the south, and, on the west and northwest, it pushes up against tuolumne city, miwuk village, soulsbyville, and twain harte. over 3000 firefighters have been working to contain the blaze, digging out open areas near roads, setting backfires, dropping flame retardant (?) from airplanes, etc. many people feel that on the west, near tuolumne city, they have it well contained, with the help of a four-lane highway which is still open. down in the woods by coulterville, they close old yosemite road and whole hillsides catch fire. the fire also moves up the mountain toward long barn and pinecrest where the highway is only two-lane and it could conceivably jump, with some bad winds.

all of which causes some anxiety in our household. trying to stay put in such a situation is gambling that the smoke doesn't overtake the valley, or the fire doesn't creep around and surround you, or that all roads remain open for when you do choose to escape. the whole extended family, as far as i know, is staying put.

meanwhile, it's first day of school here, at the college, elementary and junior high level, and everyone, all of us, are on our way back. went to an open house for the middle school where they explained that if we dropped the kid off at about 8, they would herd him into the cafeteria and from there to his first class. then we pored over maps of the gigantic school and helped him find where each class was. but, come first day, i drop him off at the front door of this massive school, and he panics. "but where do i -like- GO?" he says. he's forgotten. it's be all right, i tell him. go to the cafeteria. follow everyone else. it'll all work out.

but i remember his look of panic. it's kind of like my first-day-of-school dreams, which i've been having for what, about thirty years. you have a class, but you forget where it is. you lost so much sleep over the nature of the class, you forgot details, like, how to get there, or whether to wear pants. in some of these dreams i wake up bemused. i've been there before, and it no longer really bothers me. i'm confused about where i've been, or where i'm going. or even what i teach.

we check the maps, the updates, the facebook posts of people in the area. the mountain people are attached to their land, their steep hills and high pines, all threatened. the feeling that they'll probably survive it has taken hold and given them their tight community, knowing each other, sticking together. warily they keep an eye on a fire that can jump highways, shoot up valleys, swallow up whole hillsides. the smoke, apparently, is going mostly up over the mountain to reno, where they can hardly breathe. down here, traffic picks up and it's hot as usual. another football season starts. a faraway place barely registers, it might as well be syria. the little kids get used to school too. soon enough, it all becomes routine.


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