Foggy Mountain Tales is a column run in Sonoma West's sister publication, the Cloverdale Reveille. Columnist Pamela Tinnin is also a pastor at Guerneville Community Church.
It was a week ago today that I made what I call my “farewell walk” through the house, saying goodbye to the things we would lose if fire made its way up the almost 1600 feet to our place on Pine Mountain. After these last four years, raging wildfires seem part of our new normal. This year’s conflagration started with a literal bang, heavy rolling thunder that shook the carport where I was unloading the car.
But it was the estimated 12,000 lightning strikes that followed that were the spark that ignited fires across the state including the one here in Sonoma County now known as the Walbridge Fire. It has burned now for over a week and consumed over 50,000 acres as well as homes and outbuildings from the Lake Sonoma area south to Guerneville and other west county communities.
Thousands were evacuated. Due to the difficulties of crowding in this time of a pandemic, public shelters were limited. The people who could fled to motel rooms while others found refuge with family and friends. Some slept in their cars or camped on roadsides or at local parks. Many are still unable to return to their own communities.
Our place is four miles northeast of Cloverdale, but after three years of retirement, two years ago I returned to pastoring with a tiny congregation in Guerneville. This week has been a long one of listening to the radio for news of where my church folks are hunkered down or worse, whether they’ve lost their homes. I tell myself they’ll be safe, but I’m not naïve enough to think any of us is immune to the forces wrought by climate crisis whether fires or floods.
Of course, my husband, his mother and I live in that same uncertainty. Not much sleep these last nights as I ponder the ever-increasing evacuation warnings, alerts and orders. I awake each morning immediately looking to the skies. Of course, the last two days up here on the mountain the heavy smoke has hidden everything below us. We cannot see the valley much less the mountains far beyond.
I am in the garden early to pick tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and eggplant. The squash has surrendered and quit producing except for a rare withered zucchini or two. Strangely enough the strawberries have had a resurgence and presented us with some large, perfect berries.
The sweat stings where the mask I wear has rubbed the bridge of my nose raw. I can only sympathize with all the people who must wear them constantly, like the young clerk I met at the grocery store. He showed me the angry rash that covered his face wherever the mask touched it.
With social media and a cell phone I try to stay in touch with as many people as possible who are in harm’s way. We share our worries and express our hope that soon the fires will be contained.
Then two days ago I finally heard from one of my church folks who had been out of touch. She said she would have called sooner but her house on Sweetwater Springs Road had burned to the ground. Her voice was as calm as if she was chatting over a coffee.
She said she had managed to bring out her Bibles and her favorite bird identification books, as well as a few personal things. She asked me, “When you look at all you’ve accumulated, how do you decide what to leave behind?”
When I walked through the house the next morning for one last check just in case that day would see us ordered out, I thought about Penny’s question. I still don’t have an answer, but I wonder whether what we choose to take tells a lot about who we are.
Pamela Tinnin writes from her ranch on Pine Mountain. She can be reached at email@example.com.