Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sadness

I was checking out the interactive fire maps yesterday showing all the acreage burned up in the California fires. As you may know, I hail from the Golden State and thus have many family and friends strewn about the place. As far as I can tell, they are all okay though I suspect my cousin was evacuated for a spell. I haven't heard any bad news, so that's good news. But when I looked at the map of the fire near where I grew up, I was deeply saddened. It looks like half of Saddleback Mountain burned up and the last time I spoke to mom, she couldn't even see the mountain out her window due to the shroud of smoke. This mountain is 6000 feet high and is about 10 miles from home as the crow flies. Every day as a child, I looked out my bedroom window perfectly framing the mountain (an extinct volcano). You can see the darker colored forests at the top and each winter we'd get a storm or two that would leave her covered with snow. I was always fascinated by the snow line which is really an indication of the freezing temperature line. In my 18 years there, I only saw it snow down at my house once. In the summer, the desert thunderstorms butt up against the back of Saddleback mountain, and I remember driving up to the bluffs to listen to the muttering thunderheads behind her. I always felt this was her way of talking and I would crane my neck to try to catch her murmurings.

I remembered the time I took my stepdad's truck for a drive up the mountain where it had snowed the day before. "Hey Chris, do you want to go up to the top of Saddleback and see the snow?" I asked my 8 year old brother to go with me. We took the secret turnoff onto a dirt road to wind our way up her steep skirt of brush covered hills. Switchback after switchback to get to the top. The one lane dirt road had little turnouts along the way to let cars traveling in the opposite direction pass. At one point on a curve in the road, we came upon a car traveling down. I started to back up to get to a wider place in the road when CLUNK, one of my back wheels slipped over the cliff. If the car had gone over, I can honestly say I wouldn't be here today typing. It was straight down hundreds of feet. Being a teenager left me ill-equipped to deal with this situation, but I had to act like nothing was wrong since my little brother was with me. I don't remember how long we were stuck there, but some macho guys with a winch came along and rescued us. We continued to the top, threw a few snowballs around and made a pact never to tell what had happened. Here I am breaking that pact, but I figure the statute of limitations on such a thing has passed.

When I saw the map I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. My old friend burned and scarred, no wait, burning still! I thought of the life she nurtured, the bobcats, deer and hawks, the tuft of alpine forest at her crest. Gone. They say this fire was caused by arson at a moment when other fires had taken up the available resources. And anyway, it was mostly wilderness, alas, one of the last untouched bits of Orange County.

23 comments:

Snooze said...

That would make me sad too to see landmark from childhood burned.

Lemuel said...

I never saw your friend, but I share your deep sadness, doubly sad because it was not an act of nature but of man that destroyed her.

Polt said...

Forest fires occur naturally too, and are nature's way of replenishing things. The plants, the animals, the snow at the top, they'll all come back, in time.

HUGS....

Chunks said...

The mountains in my home town were on fire back in '03. Because of the coal beds, there are still hotspots. It's so sad when you see an area decimated by fire.

Doug said...

Hopefully, if allowed, nature will return to your old friend.

Laverne said...

The mountain is still there... she'll still be there 80 years from now (if we haven't bulldozed it for something).

She just has battle scars now.

And that story? Scared me to death. You know I have a recurring dream where you are teaching me to drive stick-shift in a red truck. We're going up a very steep mountain, and all of a sudden, it's so steep, that the truck begins to lift off from the front and start tipping backwards.
Then I wake up.

Yikes.

David said...

I'm with polt. The mountain will come back.

GayProf said...

Like the others, I think the mountain is more resilient and will come back to life. It might be an indication, though, that people should limit their building in the area.

Cooper said...

Forest ecosystems experience repeated cycles of establishment, development, disturbance and renewal over hundreds of years. Your friend is scarred right now and undergoing the very beginning of her transformation. There is sadness in this and mourning for what she was, and I feel that grieving along with you, but shorn of all she was, her beauty lies dormant now … the persistent life which is part of the earth’s gift of green.

lattégirl said...

Fires are means of natural renewal too, so all is not lost.

Beautiful post, nicely written.

em said...

Thanks for writing this. It is beautiful.

Ed said...

Polt is right. The mountain will come back and with a speed taht will surprise everyone. Not only back but better than ever. Saddleback has been there for thousands of years and will be there for another thousand years. Our little piccadillos and perfidies will do it no lasting harm.

Dantallion said...

It will come back, from from what I understand, the healing can be very, very rapid. That being said, if it was arson, I hope they catch the fucker and string him up by the balls.

Mark in DE said...

Wow, I'd have sh*t my pants if I were you in that car with the wheel off the edge! How fortunate the macho guys that came along had a winch.

The earth is surprisingly resiliant. The ashes will yeild to green again.

Mark

Steven said...

Despite all the loss, it IS a good thing that your car did not lose it off the cliff when you were younger. The last thing I would have wanted to do was continue up the mountain to throw snowballs after being rescued. I would have been a nervous wreck. Glad you're here to share your story!

Enemy of the Republic said...

Tornwordo, thanks for this. You really bring it home--this is the best thing I've read on the fires because it is just so damn real.

madamerouge said...

I want to see California so badly! This was a nice trip down memory lane... thanks.

dawn said...

The whole thing blows really. People are such asses, setting fires for shits and giggles.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Glad you didn't plummet to your death, TW.

Nice, sentimental story. I feel for you.

anabel said...

I have a story involving my parent's ski boat that was a bit like your car story. We finally confessed but it was a least a decade later!

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

Almost like saying goodbye to a loved family member, isn't it...

Patricia said...

fires scare the hell out of me. when i see the people on tv going back to what used to be their homes, sifting through the ashes, looking for even the smallest recognizable item, it just makes me cry.

The Wisdom of Wislon said...

Just Awful