Still Home

We were so tired last night that our sleep was deep and untroubled, despite the smoke we could smell when we went to bed. Because we were so tired, we hadn’t worried enough to be relieved that we didn’t wake up dead. You know what I mean.

Today has been a little surreal. We had our morning coffee on the upper deck, as we often do. What was different today was the water bombing helicopters going back and forth between the fire and the ocean, sometimes passing directly over our heads. I had a vision of the chopper pilot looking down at us and saying: “Slackers! Get off your butts!” I guess what that really means is I felt a little guilty sitting there with my freshly baked scone and my latte when there’s so much work still clearly to be done. But those are professionals up there. The last thing they want is a bunch of amateurs underfoot at this point.

And I know for sure today that there’s more than one helicopter. There’s at least two: a blue and white one and an orange and white one. (Though there could be two of each for all I know.) I’m starting to forget what the absolute stillness of this place feels like. Maybe I’ll know again soon.

The sprinkler system is still in place. The photo I’ve included here doesn’t do it justice. I don’t think it’s possible to do that with a single digital photo, at least not any I could take from the ground. The whole system they installed covers at least the full acre of our immediate yard, maybe more.

You hear that word -- “yard” -- and you likely picture something that isn’t here. It was like that when we were watching news about the fire. The newscasters would describe this area as a “neighborhood” and a “subdivision.” And while both of those things are true, they’re also quite unlike anything else that would be described with those words.

On our street, all of the properties on one side -- our side -- are ten acres. And those on the other side are five. (That’s the subdivision part. In the 1970s, it was a much larger piece.) But even when you talk about acreages, you tend to think about horse or farm type properties: mostly flat, perhaps fenced, with crops or livestock in place. Galiano isn’t like that. Perhaps three of our acres are mostly cleared. The rest was logged out in the 1970s, which is long enough ago that we’ve got a lot of really big trees. Almost three-quarters of our property is mountainside, in fact. Near the top of our little mountain is the ridge where the fire is now hopefully contained.

On normal days -- days when we’re not thinking about forest fire -- I feel oddly humbled in the presence of all these trees. It’s like being caretaker of a small chunk of forest. One shouldn’t take such jobs too lightly.

Our house is completely private. I can’t see any other houses from our house. I can’t even see all of our own outbuildings from our house. I can’t see the road, and we’re not even screaming distance from our nearest neighbor. Still, most nights you can hear whispers from the gentle surf that moves through the Strait of Georgia. You can smell both the ocean and the growing scent of a half score or more varieties of trees: pine and fir, arbutus (madrona) and oak, alder and birch. More. Some of them rare, these days, outside of this ecosystem. The lichens are the same. Some of them beautiful and rare, all of them part of something larger than they are. Part of the tissue that connects the things that sets forest apart from a mere collection of trees.

These things, I guess, touch on why the whole island has been in a kind of mourning all week. Some of us were afraid, it’s true: for our homes or our friends or even our lives. But even while our lives move back towards normal -- and over our morning coffee we see an eagle coast by in the novel currents created by a helicopter’s blades -- it’s easy to feel that nothing will ever be quite the same.


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