I have never felt closer to my San Lorenzo Valley community than I do now, because of the fire. Our home, neighborhood, and most of our town of Ben Lomond were spared from the fire thanks to our Ben Lomond Volunteer Fire Department and the thousands of other firefighters and citizens. Since the day we evacuated and ever since returning home, I have been glued to several FaceBook groups in our valley. We are strangers really, but united in this tragedy. I welcome those home who have a home, I get anxious with those who are not yet able to return home, and I cry with those who have lost their homes.
We have all experienced trauma and we are all grieving. Those who have lost their homes are feeling numb, sick to their stomachs - like they’ve been sucker punched, anxious, and have so much to do at a time when the brain, full of grief, is not functioning at its best. We have all lost our sense of security. It’s been over 100 years since we’ve had a fire of this magnitude here. None of us were spared from evacuation. We all experienced fear, anxiety, not knowing, and waiting. We all had to decide, some in a moment’s notice, what to bring and what to leave behind. For some of us, what had to be left behind included our beloved animals. We all had to scramble to find a temporary place to reside. As the evacuation days wore on, we went from place to place, not wanting to wear out our welcomes.
What I am noticing during this time is our kindness towards one another. In the stores, we genuinely ask one another, “How are you doing? Is your home safe?” We talk about our struggles, about what we’re grateful for, and about our love of this community. We are helping each other out. So many people are giving their time at shelters, offering up extra rooms in their homes, donating food and clothing, assisting in paperwork, yardwork, and house cleanups. We are supporting the small businesses that are reopening, we are checking in with our neighbors, we are feeding animals of those who are still evacuated, and we are donating to the fire departments. This tragedy is revealing who we really are: kind, loving, compassionate, and giving. This fire has made us come together - we are SLV strong!
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A few of my neighbors wrote down reflections of their experiences of the fire that they want to share with the rest of us. I present you with four beautiful pieces:
Journal entry upon returning home: Toting our most precious possessions around Santa Cruz county the past two weeks has reminded me of pictures we’ve seen of refugees on the move in cars packed to overflowing. Except of course, our story is completely different. Our exile is now over, and after only two weeks we are going home again, and to a home that is still standing. I had the same feeling yesterday as we drove into Lompico. Everything was peaceful and calm, almost too quiet. Everything looked normal in our part of the valley, but underneath was the knowledge that, while life marched on for the rest of the world, things had changed here –serious stuff happened while we were gone.
Highway 9 was nearly empty as we turned onto California Drive. Sheriff’s vehicles blocked passage north of here - Brookdale and Boulder Creek were still closed. It looked like our neighborhood was having a huge garage sale. Patio furniture, lumber, propane cylinders and other flammables had been hauled out to the front of driveways in preparation for defensive action by our firefighters. Initially some might see this as an invasion of their private space, but we can only be thankful that the firefighters had time to prepare our area for the worst!
On closer inspection, all surfaces were littered with white ash, blackened leaves, and most disturbing, chunks of charred wood, frequently lodged in piles of duff and dry grass. Sobering to realize that had the winds been strong enough to carry larger, live embers into the neighborhood. Spot fires could have sprung up all over the place, and then no amount of preparation would have saved us. We’ve seen the devastation that fire has caused in so many places in the past few years, and now with this fire where over 900 residences have been lost!
Each day we wake up in our house, visit with neighbors in the street, water the plants, and reconnect with the neighborhood. Monday night we met in a neighbor’s yard and toasted to surviving! But there is an unsettling quality that exists now. I realize dangers I had not imagined before. It’s not a reason to walk away; it’s a new perspective that takes getting used to.
We had no idea where to go when the order to evacuate came, but we had friends looking out for us who found a cabin in a campground. Later on, other friends found us the condo in Capitola. That night, two weeks ago, when I couldn’t imagine sleeping for worry about the fire consuming our home, the wife of our neighborhood fireman messaged us that our neighborhood was safe.
Through this, we all got a glimpse at how incredibly professional and organized the firefighting efforts in California really are: Cal Fire coordination of resources, the efforts by local fire departments and those that came from out of the area, and the sheriff patrols to discourage looting. It has been so encouraging to see how this community pulls together. This is the glass-half-full side of the fire.
As I finish this journal entry, helicopters are still flying overhead with loads of water to drop on remaining hot spots. Today, it's a very comforting sound.
Tom Purdy, Ben Lomond
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We have gone through what many would call some tough days. And on the one hand, yes they were, but on the other there were some lessons learned that are life changers.
It can all be gone in a moment. That's one.
The true gift of family and friends who were there for you, who showed you that they cared. That's two.
The need to truly declutter one's life, to know what things are where, to have things clearly labeled, for a moment's notice. That's three.
Four, even those "things," if they are not the people and the animals of your life, even they are not necessary.
And, five, it is my belief that I was not blessed by God to have our home escape fire. For if that were true, then it would also have to be true that others were not blessed by God. I refuse to believe that. Bad things happen, lightning strikes, winds blow and change direction, firefighters fight, marine layers move in and out, temperatures rise and fall, some homes, 925 in this fire, are lost, and others are spared. And finally, it is left to each of us to come to terms with all of it, to keep our faith and hope and love, and to be the people we are, through both the good times and the bad.
We have all learned lessons that will be valuable to us for the rest of our lives. We are each the stronger for it. We are resilient.
Frank Leonard, Ben Lomond
We were some of the last to leave and first to arrive home. At times I felt that I needed to get away from the influx of information. Then something would catch my eye and I was again filling up on the heroic efforts of our firefighters or agonizing over friends losing their home and cherished belongings.
Within the gamut of emotions experienced there is a deep sorrow. In addition to the loss of homes my focus rests on Big Basin State Park. The importance of this place in my life cannot be overrated as a healer, educator and friend for the past 15 years. I know Nature will survive this conflagration but I weep for the devastating human history loss.
Even though the process of renewal has already begun I do not feel like celebrating. I am not ungrateful that we still have a home. But I need to pay homage to losses inflicted on the people and park I care so much about. It will take time to contemplate the enormity of this fire and mourn its impact. Only then will I move on and embrace the victories.
Nan Singh Bowman, Ben Lomond
Joyce Leonard is a Life Coach, Reiki Practitioner/Teacher, and Hypnotherapist, living in Ben Lomond, with a passion for helping people live awesome lives. www.SantaCruzReikiWorks.com