This journal focuses on the art, history, culture, and wildlands of the northern Big Sur coast. Periodic entries and documents appear at random here.



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« At Mundaka with Peter Evans | Main | "Nowhere Is Our Real Home": Ken Brower appearance at HMML June 5 has been cancelled »

The Loss (?) of Our Mountain Home

July 24, 11:04 pm
Chris: Debi and I arrived home (to San José) from our roadtrip to the Southwest late Sunday night.
We had only heard very late Friday night—when checking into the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah—about the sudden mandatory evacuation of Palo Colorado. We were sick at heart that we were so far away and already shut out. As I drove the next day, Debi surfed her iPhone whenever she had reception for all rumors and reports.
In Flagstaff Saturday night about 10 pm, I was able to reach a friend and near neighbor by phone. He was in a group of five friends who had stayed to defend his very well-prepared home. As we talked my friend was looking out the window to 150' flames on the mountainsides all around him including on Long Ridge above our place. The fire had already come down from a point on the ridge between Twin Peaks and upper Green Ridge and had already quickly run through other neighbors' homes. The phone line to that part of the canyon had burnt out. But one other friend who had stayed alone at his home to defend his place—just where the fire had made its fierce run—had had a shelter built, and as my near neighbor and I talked on the phone, he thought our other friend who had stayed alone would be OK so long as fire-exhaustion didn't hit him before he went to the shelter. My friends who had stayed together had already saved one of their homes.
I told my friend I was sick at heart that I couldn't be there with them. (I know how much preparation they had done and how skillful and capable their were.) My friend said he'd go down to our place in the morning if he could and backfire. I told him not to do anything that put him or anyone else in danger. But that if once his own place was safe and he felt it was safe to go over to ours, we'd certainly be grateful for any help he could safely give. I've long been bothered by the idea that even if the main front of a fire spares a cabin, that smoldering and rolling burning debris might burn the initially spared cabin in the aftermath. It was a remarkably generous offer that our friend and neighbor made.
All Sunday during our drive our hopes and fears rose and fell depending on the latest report (or conjecture) that Debi could pick up on her iPhone. Above all, we were desperate to hear that our friends and near neighbors all were safe.
Cutting and then about to mill a deadfall madrone into planks for our friend Dennis and his cousin.
By semi-happenstance our daughters Caitlin and Ali, our son Nate, our daughter-in-law Yung, our new grandson Owen, and our good friend Anthony were already here in our home in San José. Only Matt couldn't be here. Caitlin, Ali, and Anthony were babysitting Owen as Nate and Yung went out on a date-night. It was great that all of us (except Matt) were together because it was exactly then—when I opened my laptop—that I saw that I had a message from a friend who is the wife of one of our friends who stayed.
All of us were sitting around the table. I read the message aloud.  Our friends had talked with her husband who told her very emotionally that "Chris and Debi's place is gone."
Debi and I and the kids are feeling so many emotions. Most of you who know us understand how much Rocky Creek means to me—since I'm the one who spends the most time there and the place itself and the beautiful rhythm of life we have created there has become such an integral part of how I see myself. But you may not know as well (as I didn't fully know myself) exactly how much Rocky Creek also means to Debi and our kids.
I had to remind myself that "Rocky Creek" isn't gone, but rather that this beautiful way of life we've created is gone. For now? Who knows what comes next?
We'd been anxious like so many others for two days. And now we were only beginning to enter grief—whose rhythm we intend to honor. The report, as I type, is that the mandatory evacuation order might end in a couple days. On one hand that's too long. This feeling of being disconnected has gone on far too long already. On the other hand I don't feel quite ready either. Maybe in the morning. Still too sleep deprived. And when we do return, it will be a real journey—for Debi and me and our kids—to walk through our beloved Rocky Creek again. I want to sit down in the ash like Job and grieve with the madrones and black oaks and remnants of the life we built with the help of so many friends—starting with Joel Severson but also with so much help from Brian and Aaron Patch and great advice and help all along the way from people like Christopher Williams and Norm Cotton and Mike Caplin and Jeanne Brown Hopkins and Don Herrington and Steve Trapkus and Missy Lofton. And on the ground help and sweat equity from so many other friends whose place in the life at Rocky Creek will come up in later posts.
Debi and I and the kids have been talking a lot about the trees. The journey is already bringing up memories for me of the first time I walked up to Alta Vista (our friend Jeff Norman's place) after the Basin Fire.
But our own loss is greatly deepened by our neighbors who are suffering even more. Peter lost the place he built with his own hands and where he and Barbara raised Dylan and Sehra. Charlie lost his home and much of his farm (though his caretaker cabin was spared). The friend who had stayed alone to save his place wasn't able to save it and barely got out with his life. Patti and Steve  have lost their home. Bart has lived on Long Ridge for over 45 years, and he and Kristi, our neighbors right above us, have lost their home, too. Kristi gave Caitlin her first riding lessons—which was when we were still camping on the land through the round of seasons to try to understand the place as well as we could. I'd drive Cait down to the Hoist in the morning to hand her off to Kristi—and then meet them in the late afternoon for a reverse hand-off. That time with Kristi has remained very important to Cait. And I'm just naming a few of our immediate neighbors. So many others. And so many others throughout the world in unimaginable peril and grief as refugees.
Many of you have sent beautiful, soulful, and wise emails in the past two days, which haven't been just generous, warm sentiments, but "wisdom you can really use."
I've been thinking: all the love and thought and prayer and even money (we couldn't get/keep fire insurance where we are) that we've put into Rocky Creek in the past 18 years? 
I don't regret a thing.
Maybe I'm partly trying to cheer myself up. The path of grief is already really hard. We haven't even stepped foot back in our mountain home yet. I break into tears at every turn. Thank God for Debi and the kids and friends like you.
Debi: We got the hard news tonight that the fire has taken what we have put our hearts into building at Rocky Creek. It took the structures but it did not take the creative life we built there with family and friends. That remains and we will reconstruct whatever it takes to keep that alive. My heart is full—full of sadness, loss, passion and love. But just like the land will regenerate and fill our land with wild irises and lupine we will bring new creative energy however we are called. 

We grieve in solidarity with our friends and neighbors who have lost even more than we have, raising children in their homes and living full time in a home they have built with their own hands. 

We accepted the risk of knowing that the land belonged to a greater force and that some day we may be faced with this. A risk we wholeheartedly accepted. The day has come and we are now on our knees at the power of the wild.


Reader Comments (6)

Over the river and through the woods to grammas house we go, the car knows the way to carry us all through the bright and drifting leaves, oh...over the river and through the woods, oh how we all do play, we'll have some fun and then we'll run on over the hills we go.

Every time Tadhg and I came and went from our beloved Magical Place as he called it, this was our song.

I recall so fondly coming Home to find the fire in the wood stove, a light on and Chris nestled up close to the warmth, and feeling deep joy that my neighbors feel so "at home" in my house. Witnessing the neighborhood change and grow and absolutely the sweetest times. The spotted owls, the bear that cruised through, spontaneous parties, El Niño gatherings, culverts, rubber boots, big winds, lions watching me pee in the woods, enormous grief, holy love. I once said "I didn't ever need to bungee jump because I lived on that road!" Rocky Creek.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJeanne Brown Hopkins

Skinny dipping in that pool! Thank you for the sweet memories, Jeanne. Love.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCaitlin

A road might end at a single house,
But that’s not love’s road.

Love is a river.
Drink from it.

--Rumi (1237)

My thoughts and prayers go out to you, may they hold you on this journey...

Chris and Debi, sad with you at this shocking dam in the river (s/o Shark). May the water flow freely for you and your heart community in good time.

Dear, dear sister and spirit of the forest,

So it's come to this? The circle has returned?

We both sit in ash together over the one place on this good earth that we've loved most—and that has loved us most in return.

And how should it have happened that the spirits of the place should've called me there at the exact moment when you could teach me and that then I'd be left (only apparently) alone to try to carry on the teaching clumsily on my own?

You never left. I will never leave.

Grief will be our teacher now. And we owe our blessed place another ceremony of thanks.

July 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Chris, Debi, et al., my heart sinks with your loss and the pain so many others also contend with. However, my spirit soars with your strength and resolve. Personally, I don't believe in the clichés: night is darkest before the dawn, everything happens for a reason, when one door closes another opens, or whatever. Nah.

I DO believe that we march on. I hope you can eventually pivot, and understand there's a way to still celebrate ALL of those things that make your Rocky Creek so precious- rather than constantly seeing a reminder of all you've lost. Our memories cannot be taken from us, and I believe you are lucky to have found such a special place in your hearts and lives. Be strong. I appreciate all that you do. I'm holding a good thought for you and yours and your entire community. Cheers.

July 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDavid (carmot)

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