Fire and No Rain

A week ago, fire sprouted in Waldo Canyon, a beloved wild spot just west of the city.

I was running errands when the fire made itself known. Actually, I had escaped from ridiculous heat to air conditioned grocery and hardware stores, and was lingering . Throughout the afternoon, the worrisome plume of smoke towered, threatened, grew.

Sunday morning, as I hung out the last of the wash, bits of ash daintily pelted my skin. It struck me as absurd to be tending mundane business while an apocalypse bloomed. By 10 AM, the day’s heat had already prickled the grass and gripped my spirit. Anxiety, grief, and morning temperatures in the 90’s made a debilitating triplet. I had to nap.

When I pulled myself back to productivity, I found a delightful announcement in my email. Kevin, author of the irresistable NittyGrittyDirtMan, had nominated gardenhood for the One Lovely Blog Award. I was touched and overjoyed. I wanted to pounce immediately on my responsibilities for accepting. Making the bed (the sheets, first on the line, had dried almost before the last of the wash was hung), sweeping the long-neglected floors, dusting smokey grit from all the furniture, getting ready for the work week, and another wave of heat and worry-driven exhaustion took me away from the pleasure.

People were evacuated from the neighborhood nearest the fire, among them, friends. A family of five, away on an outing when the evacuation order went out, took shelter in the house being remodeled next door. I carried over towels, soap, toilet paper. Offered my shower. The fire got more real

Over night, sleep thieves: smoke, the house unable to cool until just before dawn.

Monday. Seven hours, in temperatures that pushed past 95, tending an exquisite but very demanding garden. A few hours getting water down on my own. Another nap. No more than a wishful glance at writing.

Tuesday. At 10:30 my client of 13 years surprised me with a first. “Cheryl,” she said, “you have to go home!”

“Why?” I asked.  Had something happened with the fire?

“It’s already 91 degrees, and it’s only 10:30. That’s 9:30 by the sun. It’s too hot. And with the smoke, you shouldn’t be working in this.” But I had a few things which are weekly imperatives, and I finished those before I went home and slept for two hours.

Late Tuesday afternoon. Sirens screamed across the city.

A little after 4 PM, during a press briefing on the fire, a very localized thunderstorm collapsed over the wildfire. Sixty-five mile an hour wind gusts drove flames down hill into residential neighborhoods. That’s down hill. Into homes. Evacuations were quickly ordered. Panicked people filled the streets. By nightfall, 32,500 people were sheltered with friends or family, in hotels, in evacuation centers. Among them dear clients and cherished friends.

I was mesmerized by live coverage, streamed to my computer, until midnight. Hot, smokey house. No sleep.

No work on Wednesday. The folks whose gardens I tend in the middle of the week were all evacuated.

By the end of the day on Thursday, the count was official: 346 homes lost. Among those homes, nearly three-quarters of a subdivision called Parkside. I once helped maintain the landscape along its perimeter. There, also, the home of my friend and writing partner, Susan,  reduced to ash. Books, heirlooms, a cheerful embrace of a kitchen, big and satisfying container gardens, gone, gone, gone. And her level of loss and effort to re-create a home is repeated 345 times. It’s beyond my grasp.

Parkside after the fire.

All I know to do for her is witness. Hear her stories. Cheer her day-by-day accomplishments. Be a safe harbor when the crashes happen. She, on the other hand, has astounded and inspired me. Homeless and able to fit all her worldly goods in a car, she keeps writing. She’s taking care of business. She has an entire domestic life to rebuild and is assessing and making choices. She has an eye to the horizon and the opportunities that will present themselves. Even as she feels a cascade of emotions and watches a non-stop replay in her mind, she exudes a sense of adventure and shines with hope.

I’m humbled.

And I’m utterly grateful for Susan’s example. Grateful for a long list of blessings, miracles, and concerted efforts, as well.

  • Leadership that has cooperated and coordinated a successful engagement with the fire.
  • Firefighters who have rallied, come from all over, worked with incredible tenacity and skill.
  • For the houses that didn’t burn.
  • The city had a disaster evacuation plan, and it worked.
  • Countless people, far and wide have lent material, moral, and spiritual help.
  • The flat corner lot with its chainlink fence are far from harm’s way.
  • Even so, loved ones have checked in, just to make sure.
  • And when the air clears a bit and my mind settles down, I’ll have the One Lovely Blog Award nomination to respond to and accept.

A last bit of gratitude, which may be of interest to those of you who’ve been following the story: three and a half weeks after the hail, Julia Child is thriving.

After the Hail

In the land of Garrison Keillor, people are known to respond to nearly every cataclysm by saying, “It could be worse.”

Crazy, how that puts things in perspective.

And, on June 6 in the gardenhood, it turned out to be true. Wild as the storm was on and all around the flat corner lot, not so far away, it was far more dangerous. Torrents of rain filled the streets and swept the hail into drifts. This photo was published by a local television station, KRDO.

It’s hard to imagine any part of a garden surviving this.

Friends living just blocks away had everything — flowers, vegetables, tree fruits — destroyed. Over the next few days, I was fortunate to run into or hear from quite a few. I say fortunate because each one of these folks was carrying on, replanting, cleaning up, treating survivors for trauma. Gardeners are an intrepid and inspiring lot.

My own first steps of the journey into the aftermath gave me a big surprise. As I photographed the damage, the undamaged and the broken but valiant became more important, more fascinating. I had expected to feel grim and to summon my stoicism, but I went back indoors to make breakfast feeling a measure of delight. Most things would pull through. Lily buds remained at the tips of battered stems. The Meidiland rose never blinked. Hollyhocks leaves were shell-shocked, but they held tight to their buds. There will eventually be blossoms and perfume through the garden.

View from the front porch, the morning after the storm.

Three days before the storm, Crambe cordifolia and Walkers Low catmint had been subtly charming.

Nearly unrecognizable the day after.

More than half of three varieties of heirloom and native beans were reduced to stalks, but it was early enough for these short-season plants to reorder seed.

Potatoes were mashed.

The “Julia Child” tomato was reduced to a stalk and one leaf. “Oh, well,” rings her soprano voice, “These things happen. Carry on!”

Riddled hollyhocks held tight to their buds.

Most Oriental lily buds stayed put, though a few are well-dinged.

Fascinating leafy texture filled the bird bath.

Verbascum bombeciferum rivaling Scarlet O’Hara for post devastation defiant beauty.

Penstemon strictus and P. eatonii never blinked.

Echinacea quipped, “What storm?”

Moonshine yarrow was tipsy, but sparkling.

It was permissable, even wise, to let all the debris, the riddled leaves, the bent stems, stay as they were through Thursday and Friday while I worked, rested, and rallied for clean-up.

Saturday morning, before temperatures flirted with 90, I filled my mulching wheelbarrow to its 8 cubic foot capacity three times. This from my 1,000 square foot front garden, alone. And that didn’t get it pristinely clean. Not by a long shot.

The 8 cubic foot capacity wheelbarrow awaits its first load.

Bless the honey locust trees and whoever planted them in the parking median in front of the  house. Although their leaves rained on the garden, their high and airy crowns minimized the damage.

Reminded by an email from Larry Stebbins, I sprayed the remaining foliage with seaweed extract, and the healing has begun.

In ten days, Julia has grown two fine leaves.

The wonderful spuds have grown so much, I’ve started to hill them.

The garden is happy, breezy, and full of sun. So’s the gardener.

Hail

Image

Wave after wave of hail, ranging in size from peas to skull-busters, pummeled the neighborhood. Driven by stout upslope wind, sometimes the view to the back shed was obscured. The roar was deafening.

Couldn’t bring myself to assess the damage to the garden just yet. Thank goodness the summer is yet young.

Two and a half inches of rain on the city in just under two hours. Just southwest of the gardenhood, hail — some the size of baseballs — fell in such tremendous amounts, it had to be scooped from the road with front-end loaders. Wow.