Fire Season, 2022, #1
I did a lot of fire season posts last year. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do them this year because writing about this stuff blows and now I have a job writing about watches which allows me to escape reality, thank you job writing about watches. I feel bad calling this post #1 because this implies there will be a #2, and while I can’t imagine there won’t be one hates to put these things in writing. Please, please, if you can afford to pay for my writing, do. If you don’t, that’s fine.
Fire Season, 2022, #1
August has not been bad for fires in this particular part of California, sort of between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. We have been very lucky. We have been grateful for each day of no smoke, and fear kept on simmer.
The first real scare came last Saturday. I was working at the wine store with John, the owner, who was an acquaintance when I started and is now a friend. We were not very busy. An older couple came in. We poured a white and two reds for them. One of the reds was chilled. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as we told them about the wines. It was so hot, and had been hot, and was going to stay hot. I remember when I moved here twelve years ago and it seemed like summer was really hot for three or four weeks. Now it is really hot for eight or ten or twelve.
“I just read this book,” the woman in the couple said, “And every other word was f -this and f-that. No one gets themselves anywhere with that kind of talk!”
When they left we heard the plane, then we heard planes. We went to our phones. “It doesn’t look good,” I said. “It doesn’t,” John said. It was very near his house.
There were two fires. The two fires joined forces. The fire was small, and then 10 acres, then 40. John’s wife, who I don’t know super well but just love, because she is entertaining in every single state of mind, annoyed, happy, flustered, analytical, silly, called him. He is from New York, she is from here, and his ringtone for her, since the day they met, is “Girl From the North Country.”
In addition to not being far from them the fire was basically right on top of their good friends' house. I heard John say “Yes,” and “I know,” and “I will,” and “Alright.”
He hung up. He said that his wife told him the fire looked so close, like it was right there.
I went to the bathroom in the hotel that the store is attached to. I peed out of nervousness and then looked at myself in the mirror. I tried to see what was me getting old and what was that constant sense of dread, that constant struggle to live when there is so much to say and feel and no appropriate words or even feelings. Last year I wrote an article for a magazine about what it felt like to make improvements on my house in the middle of knowing it might burn down and someone wrote me a Twitter DM and said I was a terrible person because I still had a house and people in the town of Paradise didn’t and how could I even live with myself. As I read this message I shrank into a ball and sobbed from shame and sorrow. I feel bad, I feel bad for feeling bad, I have everything, I have nothing. I see friendships and partnerships suffering under the burden of people being unable to discuss the horror of the world.
I went back into the store. John was texting with a friend of his who is a firefighter down in Sacramento. The firefighter told him that while the fire wasn’t that close to his house it didn’t really matter because it was spotting. “Why can’t he tell me something good,” John said, “Why does he have to tell me that?”
We agree his friend was bad for telling him what the fire was doing.
We paced. We decided to look at our phones. We decided not to look at them. We wondered if we should drink. We wondered if we should not. We each put one inch of a dry white wine from Greece into our glasses and downed it.
“Remember living in New York when we were 28?” I said. We were there at the same time, at the same age, in the same parts of town, but didn’t know each other. “Remember how stupid our lives were?”
John said he remembered.
For ten minutes we went back and forth between different sources reporting the same information. “What does “flanked” mean"?” I said. “I mean, I know what the word means, but what does it mean here?”
John said he had no idea but he liked it because it meant people were doing things.
Every minute there was the roar of another plane. Firetruck after firetruck booked it past the store. I texted T. ``It’s fine,” he said. “It’s going to be Ok.” Then he told me that friends of ours might evacuate to our house, was this alright? Of course it was.
We were supposed to go to Reno that night. T. was going to see a show with one of our friends. That friend’s boyfriend and I did not want to go to the show, so we were going to go to the pool, and have dinner and drinks.
There was no reason not to go to Reno. The fire wasn’t going to get to us. We were about seven or eight, possibly ten miles away. Going would leave our house empty for evacuated friends. But what would it be like to go out of town and try to have fun?
John picked up a container of melted ice from the portable ice maker we keep to chill the whites and light red wines. In a child’s voice he said, “Hello, I’m going to help put out the fire. Hello, firefighters. John is here now. He is going to help!’ He assumed an innocent stance and held out the container of cold water with a smile. We laughed for a minute or so, then we looked at our phones again. The fire was now 70 acres.
I drove home, six minutes on the freeway, flanked (ha) by nice pine trees and brown, drought-dead ones. I packed in a daze of “why not,” a bathing suit, a loose dress, mascara, aloe cream from a local aloe cream purveyor, toothbrush.
Within a half hour the fire had been brought under control. I could not believe it. But it had been done. There were no other big fires at the time, so they threw everything they could at it, and they put it out. I felt so happy. I wondered if maybe feeling this happy was a net positive. What if it was?
We drove to Reno, over the Donner Pass. I remembered how a friend of mine once arranged a tableau of a novelty-sized giant gummy bear sitting on a Donner Party monument eating smaller gummy bears, which he then photographed and posted on Instagram. Someone commented that it wasn’t funny because they had relatives who died in the Donner Party. Every time I think about this story I laugh harder.
T. went to the concert with our friend, their boyfriend and I went out for sushi and drank a lot but not as much as we could have. At dinner, I told him how people tell me not to read the news, and I say, what the fuck, the news is right in front of me, in the brown trees. He is from Tahoe, so all he said to this was “Word,” but he said it with real passion.