My Faith In Humanity Restored Through Ballet (Stories Of The Camp Fire)

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Last night I had the privilege of attending the ballet and what an evening it was! Sure, the story was slightly delayed for the season but out of the ashes the most famous ballet in the world arose in all its glory, tradition, and pageantry in a borrowed theatre here in Northern California. And the story of how this production came to be is perhaps better than the beloved Nutcracker itself… because in this story my faith in humanity was restored.

Now I am not a huge fan of ballet. I don’t often attend performances.  Since I am a writer, I am a lover of words, and without those sometimes my attention strays making ballet somewhat problematic. Needless to say, attending what I thought was going to be an “amateur” performance; I suspected the night might be filled with pokes and prods to keep me awake. Was I ever wrong.

Last night I discovered the Northern California Ballet. Since 1983 it has been producing full-length classic ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. Besides production, the studio has also taught hundreds of children dance skills that have led some to professional dance careers. It is a mighty place full of hope, dreams, and plain old hard work. There are no slackers, slouches or amateurs here!

As the holiday season was fast approaching Northern California Ballet was rehearsing their version of The Nutcracker when disaster hit. On November 9, 2018 the Camp Fire swooped through the town of Paradise killing 85 and wiping out the majority of this close-knit community. It goes on record as the deadliest fire in California history. But that is just the beginning of the horror. In addition to all the lives lost, almost 14,000 homes went up in smoke and so did the studio and storage shed belonging to the Northern California Ballet. With such a fast-moving fire no one had time to save anything. NOTHING. The kids no longer had clothes, school supplies, or a warm bed. They no longer had the comfort nor the routine of dance. Gone were their ballet costumes and their dreams of dancing on stage…or so they thought. Yet, when hardship and devastating circumstances arise somehow folks find the strength to fight back and find a way to turn tragedy into triumph which is exactly what Northern California Ballet did. And last night it showed. The dancers were talented, elegant and polished. They danced with real joy radiating from their faces. The world was their oyster and they were the pearls.

How did they accomplish so much in so little time? Just plain dedication and hard work. But an even more important ingredient was the global ballet community in general. As it turns out companies from all over the world donated costumes, backdrops and props. The Eugene Ballet Company, dancer Angela V Carter’s costumes from Ballet New England’s productions, and both large and small studios from Iowa to Florida found ways to give to their sister in need while volunteers sewed and stitched late into the night. And so, a vital community resource went from a studio of smoke and ashes to an on-stage performance in just a little over two months. Now that is what I call dedication. I also call it a miracle.

In addition to the dance itself music was provided by a live orchestra hiding out in the orchestra pit. These musicians were also from Paradise and many had lost their homes in the fire and their precious instruments as well. Yet, somehow they managed to come together (borrowed instruments and all) and play magnificently. Watching a ballet performed to live music instead of tape is an honor these days and I felt blessed to do so.

By coincidence I went to Paradise last week. It was my first trip up there since the fire. The devastation is immense. Unless you have survived living in a war zone you have probably never seen anything like it. It is shocking. It is horrific. It is incredibly sad.

 

Yet, after tonight’s performance by Northern California Ballet, I have hope for this world. People are amazing. Their resilience astounds me. Their fight to rise again gives me hope. Kids who dedicate themselves to their craft no matter what are inspiring. And the generosity of an arts community to their sister in need are exactly the kinds of acts of compassion and love that the world needs to see.

So fear not and have hope. There are heroes walking amongst us and tonight they were all on stage at The Nutcracker for the world to see. I wish you could see them too.

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Please visit the Northern California Ballet site to learn more. http://www.northerncaliforniaballet.com/?page_id=33

Also, they could use your financial help. Here is their GO FUND ME page. I hope you will give generously.

https://www.gofundme.com/small-ballet-studio-destroyed-in-paradise-fire?member=&utm_source=sendgrid&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=contacts-v2-invite-to-donate

 

Scattered Thoughts On Older Age And Sex

Things are going fairly well at this end of the earth. We have re-settled after we evacuated from the Camp Fire and the Amaryllis has bloomed for the holidays.

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The past few weeks I’ve been painting and wrapped more presents than I care to remember.

The new “Happy Holiday” 2 seater hot tub came. Getting that tub up the back stairs was a bit daunting but now our backs are loving the warm water and our muscles thank us everyday. Of course, falling down said stairs did make the hot tub a mandatory requirement at least until the bruises disappear.

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Funny thing about that 2 seater…it reminds me of the first indication that B was beginning to have a mid-life crisis…a two seater sports car that mysteriously appeared in our garage. From there it progressed to the affair. I think I will make the lock downs on the hot tub so tight that only I can open them…a chastity belt for the hot tub.

Today I went to the doctor and found out I am a walking heart attack waiting to happen. My cholesterol is a whopping 303 and the bad is steady 224. I think it is time to have DNR tattooed to my chest. The doc is putting me on meds and suggests I go vegan. Oh and there was also that…” let’s get a thumb wrap for that appendage, let’s up the thyroid meds and maybe you should start running…you are going to need a new knee soon anyway so why don’t you just blow out the one that you have got!”

Years ago I was a vegetarian. I baked my own bread twice a week and grew my own food. My hippie years were healthy and carefree…getting old is a bitch. I wish I could say I walked 30+ years ago in a pot induced haze but I can’t… I opted for the love-ins instead. I think I may have gotten it wrong.. that too much sex and too little drugs thing… because at this point in my life it has reversed and frankly doctor induced “old age” drugs are a lot more concerning than a joint. I think the more sex and less drugs of my younger years was a much better option than what is available to me today. Now I am left to only dream of those good times…when I can remember them at all.

One of my adult children is urging me to try cannabis gummies to mellow me out in my old age. I have to admit that I have considered it but I am afraid that I might never get off the sofa if I did. Also, I have never been one for marijuana…it always made me paranoid and after B’s affair and feeling like I was crazy for those three years I am not sure that being anything less than fully present would be a good thing for me. There is nothing enduring about paranoid.

Yesterday as I was returning home I listened to a podcast which encouraged each person listening to celebrate and create for themselves a designated Day Of Compassion. This means waking up with intension of showing compassion and helping others whenever the opportunity presents itself or creating those opportunities throughout the day yourself. Doing things like thanking the woman who cleans the restrooms and telling her how much it means to you to know that when you use the bathroom you can always count on it being clean and fresh thanks to her hard work. Buying a McDonald’s food card for the person on the street so you know that they have something warm in their stomach. Noticing and commenting to your husband and kids when they help you or others. Just being there for someone in need no matter how big and small.  So I have decided to schedule my Compassion Day for January 3. I will let you know what discoveries I make and what opportunities presented themselves.

 

Coming Home

Make no mistake about it. We are the lucky ones. With so many families displaced by the Camp Fire (over 45,000 people, and over 13,000 homes burned to the ground) I am lucky that the only thing we have to worry about is a slight stench of smoke which has permeated our home.

We have lived out of boxes for two weeks and I feel incredibly lucky to have had those boxes with us at so many points during this crisis. So many people did not even have time to grab their valuables much less simple things like toothbrushes and a change of clothes. They literally ran with the clothes on their back into the thick black smoke to get away from the flames that were whipping from tree to tree above them.

Today, I started unpacking the car. What I realized was that everything I had packed had deep meaning for me and most were old family things belonging to relatives I had and had not met during my lifetime.

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I saved that 1893 stamp, worthless to anyone but me. It is the one that was taped together by my grandfather and I down in his basement after an epic failure at removing it from an envelope destroyed its purity. Along with it,  came my fifth GGrandmother’s lace sleeping cap and the christening dress that was my 4th GGrandmother’s wedding dress repurposed.

I took my kids adoption records and their citizenship papers, my third great grandmothers carnival glass salt and pepper shakers, and the pot we bought at the souk in Morocco; the one where we almost lost our daughter, probably never to be seen again.

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I took as much artwork as I could fit into the car. Pieces that we have collected during our travels like the deity from Argentina, part of the collection of Japanese woodblock prints and the breastplate we bought from the potter in my husband’s town of origin in Ireland on our 25th Anniversary holiday.

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I took old photographs, the Civil War Sugar bowl belonging to my 3rd maternal grandmother and my GG grandmothers white calling card bowl. The Buddha rode shotgun guarding the collection of celadon pottery that I bought while in my children’s country of origin.

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Everything I took had deep personal meanings and connections to the past. Everything had historical/familiar significance to me and to those who came before my time. And while these items are only “things” and I can’t take them with me when I die; they bring meaning to my life now and I am grateful to have them.

I am glad to be back home. In a home lucky enough to remain untouched by a fire that killed so many. I can’t imagine having nothing left of my life but ashes and soot. I can’t even wrap my head around how that must feel. But this I know…it isn’t the collection of things that we have that are the most meaningful, it is the collection of people, our tribe, that we call our own that bring us our greatest joy.

Now go and give someone you love a hug. Then look around you and think about what you would take if you had to flee. It only takes a minute to determine what is of value to you and unfortunately sometimes a minute is all you have. So be prepared.

The California Fire Cough a/k/a Lung Damage & How You Can Help

Below is the first picture I took of the fire on the morning it started. It had started about 1 hour previously. 

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Although I am now finally on the coast there is an odd mixture of smoke and fog here making it nearly impossible to tell which is which. Turns out my lungs don’t care and I ended up at the clinic because my chest was tight and breathing felt difficult.

A chest x-ray, breathing treatment and blood draw later; I found out I have a sinus infection due to the smoke and my lungs are hyper inflated indicating that they have sustained damage. So I left with a kenalog shot in my ass, a prescription for prednisone to knock out the inflammation in my lungs and an inhaler to open up my airways. Sigh. Next thing you know all of us in the fire zone will be walking around with oxygen tanks strapped to our bodies.

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So far over 10,000 houses have been lost. I can’t even imagine how big an area that would be if you lined them up row by row. The fire is now 50% contained but today they found more bodies bringing to total thus far to 71. Such a horrid way to go. I can’t imagine the fear those poor souls felt before they were overtaken.

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I am going to ask a favor. Whether you pray, send positive vibes or do a rain dance…tomorrow night there are expected to be 40-50 mph winds again. My house is 4-5 miles from the fire. Please send good thoughts for the area, for those brave firefighters, and for anyone who needs it. There is so much needed here…and so many can use your help.

If you are in the position to give, one really great local organization that helps fire victims directly is  the Oroville Hope Center. Click here:

 

https://www.orovillehopecenter.org

Camp Fire Hotline: 833-ORO-HOPE (833-676-4673)
Camp Fire Email: campfire2018@orovillehopecenter.org

 

Thoughts About The Camp Fire in NO CA

With the fire slowly creeping forward and containment at 35%; I have decided to leave for a bit for the coast, which is not immune from the toxin filled air.

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The smoke is so heavy that breathing is becoming more difficult and it is seeping through the cracks in my house like a snake slips and slithers through the smallest of holes. I have to wonder that even if the fire does not reach us will the smoke smell permeate our home making it smell like a barbecue shack for years to come? How does one get rid of that deep-fried charcoal smell anyway?

B just called me as he drove to work. He says the smoke is so thick that it is like driving through pea-soup fog making driving more hazardous than the normal commute. Toxins from the fire will have effects on the average persons health for years to come and so you begin to ask yourself do the risks of staying outweigh the risks of leaving?  Yes, we want to stick around to guard our house against the fire but most of all we want to protect ourselves from the lower than pond scum looters that prey on situations such as this to enrich themselves. Yes, almost everything is replaceable except that feeling of violation that may never leave.

The death toll now stands at 56. It appears that it will reach well over 100. So many people gone. So many folks who made the community what it was no longer alive to contribute to the re-building and bring the enthusiasm that is needed for such an endeavor.

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The border of the fire now stands less than 5 miles from my home. The winds are blowing the pines to the right just a bit. My solar panels are no longer producing power. The birds have stopped singing and the deer have a desperate look to their eyes. The skunk has a slightly gray parlour to him and so do I.

It will be nice to leave for a bit. Nice to be where the air smells fresh and the sky is actually blue rather than brown. I feel for those who have no choice but to stay waiting in lines to have their licenses re-issued, take a shower, try on donated clothes, find a rental, talk to FEMA and the insurance adjusters. Sometimes being in shock protects you until it can no longer do so because you are just plain weary and you lose hope.

Yes, for so many there is a lot to do. A lot to overcome. And so far I have had little to worry about. I am one of the fortunate. Yet, even if we lose our home  I think I can say with confidence that we will still be one of the lucky ones…because we have one another and we are still alive.

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And…The First Fire-Related Lawsuit Is Filed. Compassion Is Needed.

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Tonight six more individuals were added to the list one never wants to be on…deceased. Dead due to a fast burning out of control wildfire. This brings the number killed to 48 with hundreds still missing. It is a sad day for our state but especially for the towns of Paradise and Concow where most of the victims resided.

Paradise is not a compact city. There were many folks living down miles and miles of long country roads. People spread out far and wide surrounded by tinder dry forests. As I read over the list of the missing I couldn’t help but notice that about 90% of them were over 70 years-old. Grandparents who couldn’t run fast enough, couldn’t drive, or maybe even hear any warnings that might have come their way.

Tonight it was also announced that the very first lawsuit was filed in court with the fire still raging and fault not yet determined by fire investigators.  The defendant in the lawsuit is PG&E, the local electrical utility. Right before the fire became an inferno, the utility emailed an individual requesting access to their property as the PG&E’s transmission wire was sparking. This is most likely just the beginning of a long list of suits that will surely follow.

While I realize that many will want to see someone held responsible for the deadliest fire in California history; I am hoping people will not turn on those who did their best during a chaotic situation…the first responders. Having lived through several emergencies, I can only believe that everyone did their best to save lives while a fire was swallowing up land the size of 8 football fields every minute. With hot embers flying through the air driven by radically changing winds which were being pushed faster than a person can drive, it seems to me that to try to point fingers is a game in futility and one that degrades our collective humanity. Yes, looking back we always find things that could have been done better and faster but when calamity strikes we all do what we can and  we do what we can to the best of our ability and with the knowledge we have at the time.

Unfortunately, we all have noble ideas of how we THINK we would react in certain situations, often playing those scenarios out in our minds at different points in our lives. But life isn’t that simple. We often find in an emergency that our previously good ideas no longer work. Trees fall, lines are long, folks stay behind for one last thing, we fail to heed the warnings soon enough or we don’t have enough gas in our car.

Unfortunately, I suspect that there will many people who will go to their graves second guessing themselves for failing to act in ways that were impossible to implement when there are so many lives to save in a cataclysmic event. It is truly one of those moments that you can never totally prepare for. The notions and ideas that survivors had about themselves and how they would react in life changing events can often snare them. Then the “if only’s” may begin to slowly eat away at them until they are but shells of their former selves.

I hope this does not happen. I hope people will look at one another and not point fingers but will show compassion and understanding. Perhaps one of the greatest things folks can do for themselves and others in this type of situation  is to stop, breathe, and say:

“I know you are suffering. That is why I am here for you.”

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The “end” of an emergency is really just the “beginning” of a new normal. It isn’t easy. Anger appears out of nowhere and despair can rob us of moments we formally enjoyed. Yet, compassion and forgiveness (a blame free environment) can go a long way towards bringing a community back together and re-building it in such a way that it creates a long-lasting atmosphere of vibrancy, restoration, and love. May everyone impacted by this fire remember that blame creates suffering which only causes further suffering for ourselves. And may those involved look for the best in each and every person and not assume the worst; so that seeds of compassion planted now will flourish in the future creating Paradise once again in this amazing mountain town.

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View of the area around my home

 

 

THE DEADLY FIRE CONTINUES

First of all, my regrets to the beautiful town of Paradise which lost so many in the fire. Same with Concow. There are now over 6,400 homes that were destroyed and there are over 50,000 displaced persons. Also, for the history lovers the Honey Run Covered Bridge was destroyed. It was a much loved landmark in the area where everyone went to have the senior high school pictures taken and many weddings were held. Built over 100 years ago it was the only three-span bridge remaining in the USA.

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So far we have evacuated once. Not because it was mandatory but because the winds were suppose to be 50 miles per hour at night and I didn’t want to drive in the middle of the night along with 50,000 other people who were trying to leave. I watched the videos of those who were driving through fire on both sides of them, embers flying around and no visability. That is not the way I want to die so we went and stayed with my cousin for the night and returned the next afternoon. The car is still packed and ready to go if need be.

We have offered a large room in our home but thus far no takers. Sometimes it seems so difficult to be  able give and get disaster relief to those horribly and truly impacted people. I wish it was easier to connect because I know people are looking for shelter and I cannot imagine cots are too comfortable.

Today it was announced that they have found 42 deceased persons in the area and over 200 are still missing. This makes the Camp Fire the deadliest in California history. Don’t even get me started on what our bone-headed leader said about the situation. Too bad he didn’t just get wet while in France and melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. I suspect that is the real reason he would not attend the ceremony in the rain!

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We are watching the fire creep slowly towards us but the winds are dying down so I am not expecting that this monster fire will reach us. Thank you for all those positive vibes. That said, the smoke is thick and ash floats down like snowflakes. My outdoor furniture has a layer of soot coating it and my head hurts from all the smoke in the air.

Paul was burdened after visiting the evacuation center and became concerned that we would lose everything too. We explained that nothing else mattered but the love we had for each other and for our family in general. Everything can be replaced… but people… and while somethings are dear to our hearts, if lost, we can find other things to replace them. Nothings Real But Love!

It was an eerie day hearing the helicopters down at the lake scooping up water to pour on the fire. Yet, with such thick smoke blanketing the area I could not see them. I heard them coming and going all day without one visual verification that they were truly there.. It makes me wonder how those pilots keep safe and I have to give them a big salute for all they are doing to try and keep us safe.

Since we just moved here we really don’t know many people but when I go to the store I hear the stories of personal loss and it just breaks my heart. Someone’s grandma gone. Another person’s uncle still missing. Pets left behind because they were so scared they ran off and their owners had to leave without them.

B and Paul went to the evacuation center in town to help out on Saturday. They said it was the saddest thing they had ever seen… so many traumatized people who fled with only the clothes on their backs which make what I am about to say so ridiculous. While they were there they were instructed to hand out clothing to all these people who had no clothes but what they were wearing when they left two days before. As these needy people were getting free clothing, the state health department came and shut the hand-out down, stating that the clothes had to be taken and sanitized first. What a bunch of crap! I wrote the Governor and other officials stating at times like this common sense needs to prevail and rules need to be bent when at all possible.

Today, I made the kids come out and remove leaves from the backyard and the decorative bark away from the house. They complained so much that I think that they need summer jobs detasseling corn or picking fruit. Good old hard, sweaty labor might just cure the “Princess” nonsense that is going on in this castle.

Here are some pics from the fire. Please keep California in your prayers.

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Saturday-One of the evacuation centers that B and Paul worked at

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Saturday-Smoke starting to fill the area

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Why we left

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A street 5 blocks from us

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