Four months since the devastating fire, we have little choice but to cope with the circumstances. Trying to recover feels like walking up a mountain of sand, as I recall from a childhood visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. Even as I was with my brothers, I walked each step up with my own legs, slipping half a step back for every step forward. Walking was slow, so we tried to outrun the slipping sand and got really tired. We made it to the top of one big dune, just to enjoy running and rolling and slipping back down. The sand was hot, but we were determined and full of energy, so we climbed up a few times. Coping with this fire has me remembering the feeling of the steep sand climb.
According to the American Psychological Association resilience is, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Their webpage called The Road to Resilience includes a number of pointers, one of which is to stay flexible. Being too rigid and closed minded can make recovery tough.
What makes sense depends on variables. The recovery is a 1,000 piece puzzle. I look for the edge pieces so I can build a frame, but sometimes I find pieces in the middle that fit together first.
Shifting sand and puzzles and grief. These feelings accompany me as I try to refigure my life. It is an important time, with crossroads. It’s not a puzzle with a completed picture to guide the rebuild. It’s choices and circumstances, opportunities and realities.
I keep going back and looking through the remains. The home is dead and the remains are not yet buried. Every time I notice another thing we had, burned and broken with glass and metal melted on it. I look for things which might have survived but that, not found, seem to have disintegrated with no trace. I’m pretty much done looking, but each rain clears some ash, revealing colors from my dishes, beads, and jewelry – broken, melted or cracked, and stuck with muck. I keep going back, if only to cry some more over what all was lost. I probably will keep doing this until the debris is scooped up, wrapped, and removed. Then it will be buried.
Otherwise, I carry on, viewing Paradise from the valley. I can almost see it from the hills of Tehama where we are in the process of purchasing a home. With no place for us in Paradise, we cope from afar. If we do not return, it’s not because we did not love it there.
I went to one of the big planning meetings, held at the Paradise Alliance Church. The place was packed. I do not have any doubt that Paradise will recover and in that time be a more beautiful community than ever before.
Coping from Afar was printed in the Paradise Post on March 9, 2019.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.