Thursday, June 28, 2012

El Fuego

My most distinctive memory in college was the night the dorm caught on fire. It was around 10pm and the alarm went off for probably the sixth time that week. I groaned, slipped on my leopard-print slippers (because I was very hip), looked at my cell phone, and called security from my dorm phone.

"The fire alarm is going off in Slocum"


So commonplace was this interaction that they didn't ask any questions and I didn't have to say anymore. I locked my room and started down the stairs.

My residents from the previous year were yelling as loudly as they could that this was a real fire. On the fourth floor. And these weren't the kinds of f*ckers who would joke around about a thing like this.

I turned around and ran up the stairs. The fourth floor was empty, but smoke billowed out of the top of one door and water poured out of the bottom. My fellow RA was at the other end of the hall, and we both ran towards the fire.


This week I ran from fire. The Waldo Canyon Fire started on Saturday about five miles west of my home. People laughed at me for packing my suitcases and gathering my papers, but Tuesday evening a change in the wind brought the fire down the mountain and 1/3 of a mile from my back porch. I watched a normal Colorado wildfire become a monster that poured like lava down the hillside in thirty minutes. In five minutes the ash cloud surrounded my house, and I grabbed my packed bags, my birds, and left.

What has changed in me that once I ran towards the fire, and now I run from it?

I've been asking myself that very question.

Sitting in a friend's home with a complex wardrobe of three pairs of yoga clothes, one swim suit and one wedding dress I contemplated my reaction.

I don't have an answer yet.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Things to Do When the Sky Falls

I dreamt of water last night. Soft drizzle, summer rainbows.

A fire is burning near my house. Many of my friends have evacuated from their homes as this fire is less than 24 hours old and is already more than 2,000 acres strong.

The irony is not lost on me.

In your dreams, your house represents your life. And even in my sleep, I'm fighting for mine.

In situations like this, where you are not evacuated but are not a fire fighter, are not a nurse or care provider, are not a mother or otherwise responsible for the lives of others, this time can feel the worst. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. Offering help, asking for ways to help, and twiddling your thumbs.

If you are evacuated, you are similarly idle. Perhaps worried and unable to rest, or riding the emotional roller coaster of an unplanned and undesired shift in your life.

If you are safely out of the evacuation zone for any crisis (and feel free to extrapolate this into areas of your life that are perhaps more relevant) I suggest any of the following:

1. Check in with the news media periodically, but not constantly. It can drain your energy to hear only the most sensational news. Set a time when you will check in, and take time away. Perhaps trade duties with friends if you are near the evacuation zone. You listen from 1-2, I'll listen from 2-3 etc.

2. Find and support your people. If you are part of a community, a book club, a social circle, an alumni support network, check in with those folks first and see if they need your help.

3. Hone your skill and look for ways to use it. Do you have a way to offer your service? This might be easy if you own an animal shelter or restaurant, but look for other ways to support. Perhaps you can offer your service to those providing direct service?

4. Fill your birdbath with water. Refill your bird seed. Be kind to displaced and frustrated animals.

5. Call your mother (or other friend/relative who is probably worrying about you or just misses you and will keep your mind occupied). This counts as doing something.

6. Imagine what you might take with you if faced to leave. Notice everything that remains. These are the things that others left behind. Offer what you can if you are living in a state of overwhelm and find you have too many water glasses or sandals.

7. Take some time to cultivate quiet energy. Maybe this means meditation, prayer, or simply thinking good thoughts or listening to inspiring and calming music. I believe that we can affect the energy around us, because I believe in physics.

8. Prepare your home as though you are having guests (because maybe you will). Make ice. Make up the spare bed. Plan some meals. Maybe you'll get a guest and maybe you'll just be able to take meals to those who are helping others.

9. Do not detach from the crisis around you, turn to alcohol or cable television. Be aware and cultivate the calm you can by practicing yoga, running, crafting, or otherwise being mindful.

10. Dream of rain.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The tree

I don't actually remember my grandfather, I just know that we spent time together. I've heard descriptions of our interactions, which are the closest things I have to memories of him. Case in point: the tree. Apparently, my grandfather could grow anything. Even in Colorado, even under the haphazard care and erratic watering that is the Kwinn Homestead. When I was three years old, he brought a mountain ash tree from Tennessee and we planted it in the front yard. He and my parents let me choose where to plant the tree, which ended up being too close to the blue spruce that was planted by the original owner and/or landscape architect.

This was my tree.

I always thought of it as my tree. When I was five, I thought it would grow quickly enough that I would soon climb it like kids in the movies would climb trees. As it turns out, trees don't grow that well in Colorado and it never really took off in that way. Also, it was crowded by the blue spruce. They snuggled well on cold nights and meant that there was almost no grass that needed trimming in the front yard.

My grandfather died four years after we planted that tree, so it isn't a big surprise that it didn't grow straight and tall. It divided into four mini-trunks too close to the ground.

When I turned sixteen I parked my car underneath that tree. Sometimes it would protect it from snow, but more often it would drop orange berries and tiny leaves in the fall. It was ok, though, because it was my tree.

It got nuts after college and started to really take over the driveway, so much that it was a little difficult trying to squeeze in underneath it when parking. It would get caught in my hair when I would roll in late at night and couldn't avoid all of the branches.

Then this past fall a big storm came through town and split my tree in half. A neighbor came over with a chain saw to cut it away from the driveway so my parents could drive out. They hired a landscaper to evaluate the remaining parts of the tree, and he said what we knew all along: it was planted too close to the blue spruce.

And it wasn't going to make it.

I think I cried more when I heard about my tree than I did about my grandfather, but to be fair I was only seven when he died and had no experience grieving. Now at 31, I have lots more experience with loss (and am an excellent crier).

But as sad as I am, no one mourns that little tree more than the blue spruce. It grew around the ash and now has it's own scar: a hole where the ash used to be.

I think we have a lot in common.

So now there's a big chunk of my tree sitting behind my couch. I begged my parents to save some of it for me so I could make something out of it, like a photo frame or coasters or whatever else people make out of pieces of ash. Something new.

I don't remember my grandfather, but I remember my tree. It was something we grew together; a description of one interaction. Our story.