High and Tight, Please

I’d been asleep for about forty five minutes when I was forced awake by my wife saying that we were being evacuated.  The fire was coming too close.

I’d worked the night before and was up from five in the morning when I got off until eight when I decided to hit the sack.  All the local channels seemed to be unraveling at their seams pontificating about how extremely fast the wildfires were moving from their points of origin, kindled a mere eighteen hours or so before. Here I thought that the Santa Ana winds brought exceptionally warm weather in the autumn months and that was all. How naive of me.

“Get up.”


“Get up! We’re being evacuated.”

My girls’ sweet voices flowed from their bedroom.  They were packing their things.

I sat straight up, rubbed my salty eyes, took a gaze out the window and rubbed them again. It’d definitely gotten more smoky in the short time I’d been in my deep slumber. Kim was pacing around our room chanting, “I’m so sorry” like it was a mantra. I knew she was apologizing for ever being in California in the first place. She’d been my sounding board for the last six months. There was no question that she knew how I felt about San Diego. I wanted to say that I was sorry, too, and I wanted to console her but I was too disoriented. Ash was falling from the sky like little flakes of early Michigan snow. I wished I would wake the fuck up and look out my window at Michigan’s autumn leaves.

I was in my underwear and I needed to get the hell out.

As chance would have it, I found two boxes of photos that I couldn’t locate since our move last month.  They were buried in a box containing a variety of junk stuff. Moving sucks. These photos, however, are very dear to me – they hold the memories of a time so different and so remote. These are the keys to a book that I will probably never write. I grabbed those before pulling my shorts on. I gathered a few more things and headed down to load our trunk.

The girls seemed unphased, but I know Delphina had to have some sort of pit in her stomach.  She was being strong for her little sister – and for us.  She’s a good kid like that. The sky was painted black like a horrible goth band album cover and everything smelled like a great bonfire. However, I knew what was burning and I didn’t want our things to be the kindling for nature’s greatest fall bash/bonfire. Kim was racing nervously up and down the stairs. I wondered what all the hurry was considering the fire was easily at least three or four miles away. Kim’s good for that – she reacts when I think. In a matter of minutes we were packed with a hodgepodge of clothes and household goods. Hero brought along Kim’s collectible gay Ken doll because she thought it was pretty. Fina had her iPod filled with her teeny-bop pop-punk and, for once, I was glad it would take her out of her body so she could relax. I stunk like sleep.

In a matter of hours, our part of Carlsbad and Encinitas all shut down.  We knew things weren’t good when we were told Target was closing its doors and would be closed indefinitely. We got some water. The Santa Anas do some crazy shit to my lips. It would be hours before I stopped at a Rite Aid in Rancho Cucamonga in the Inland Empire before I bought some Carmex.

We evacuated to Kim’s aunt’s house in an area known as the Inland Empire, about two hours’ drive from North County, San Diego. For the next two days, her house would be our base of operations where we’d sleep lightly, worry much, but be graciously entertained by family that was trying to keep us chipper and less burdened. We spent some time at Bass Pro Shops, which was awesome. I enjoyed looking at all the taxidermy and the fresh water fish in the tanks. I feel manly like that sometimes. It brought smiles to our faces which were being greatly taxed by worry lines and frowns.

It gave me a chance to think, too.

Well, once I finally got some sleep after being awake for the better part of thirty hours.

I debated all the things that we’d do if our belongings turned to ash. Obviously, most of the plans included trekking across the states back to Michigan, where the tornado season was mostly over.

As the reports poured in about the paths of the fires in San Diego, I came to realize that the so-called Cedar Fire of 2003 plays a big part in what was happening here in 2007. I’d heard many stories of the devastation the fires brought four years ago. My brother-in-law has shown me several times areas that were burnt to a crisp but in a couple years’ time were repopulated with even more houses. This, at the time, seemed odd to me.

However, in October of 2007 this no longer seemed odd but completely offensive. It hit me like a bolt from the sky when I realized exactly what was being perpetrated here. Four years later, the same people that should have learned that they lived in a wildfire prone area not only rebuilt in the same area again, but developers brought even more kindling for the fires into the area.

Fires across the west of America have happened for thousands of years due to winds such as the Santa Anas and lightning storms. The Earth has a unique way of grooming itself and wildfires, by chance, is one of these ways. But, when we interfere in the natural ecology of things, such as we have to the nauseating extent here in Southern California, it makes things worse because not only does it destroy homes, but it destroys the living balance of nature. Let’s not forget, also, that we humans were not meant to live in such great number here because there’s no water. Literally, there is no water here. Everything must be pumped in to this area and to sustain the growing numbers of people moving here, water must be provided disproportionately to what nature can sustain or provide – especially when a homeowner wants a beautiful English lawn around their house(s).

I’m not going to point fingers and say these fires were the fault of anyone specific or that anyone deserved what they got. No one deserves what happened last week. But I cannot stand idly by and say nothing of the privileged class and the notion that they can defy God and nature by waving money in the air as the inferno inhales and breathes. When I make a mistake that causes personal injury, I make every effort to avoid that situation again because I don’t like to feel pain. Simple notion, correct? To return, rebuild, and to rebuild even more extravagantly and in greater numbers is a gross defiance of the natural process of things and the fires that spread so quickly and ferociously because of your stubborn nature had a hand in your own demise.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina, where the poorest of people were the most affected, the richest of people were most affected by the wildfires. This is usually not the case in natural disasters, obviously. Low-income areas the ones closest to polluting incinerators and to nuclear power plants for a reason – if the poor want to afford a house, they can have one that comes with a signed writ of early death, too. Although some of the rural properties that were affected reside in an area more readily accessible by folks like us (we’d looked at moving to Ramona because of the cheaper rent – the fires began there), the money that went up in smoke rested in the thirsty hills and valleys west of those areas. Ridiculously expensive houses with whatever you can imagine as an amenity sit all along the area that became scorched. But then money is just a number in your bank account balance, right? Or perhaps in your Swiss secure account? Or in an offshore business with no real name and no real product? What’s to burn, right?

As I type this, the fires quietly but assuredly still burn somewhere in the East County. I still wake to hazy skies and sometimes smell the bonfire. Houses may even be catching fire. But no one really cares any more because they’re not the priority. All we have to listen to now is how all the bourgeoisie want to rebuild, how they still don’t want to pay taxes to help our forest fighting operations, and listen to them pine on and on about how lucky they were that their daughter’s horses were not killed so that they could still go to their equestrian events.

I’m just glad that my family is alive and I was able to read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods to Hero before she went to bed this evening. I’m even glad that I had to yell at Delphina for keeping her room unkempt. At least she’s here and if I wanted to I can go into the girls’ room and give them both big wet kisses.

In fact, I think I’ll do just that. And I just might get amorous with Kim, too.