One wants to believe, and there’s tons of evidence, that we’re Paradise Strong and Butte County Strong. Like the mythical phoenix, we will rise from our own ashes and be reborn; yet, we are still mucking around in the ashes, remembering those who perished in the Camp Fire nearly five months past, and trying to make sense of it all.
Paradise was hit so hard it knocked the population down and out. The diaspora has Paradisians bumping into each other in our new neighborhoods and in the unfamiliar places we now frequent, different shops and restaurants, and often different work sites. We’re still friends on Facebook and other social media, getting updates from each other.
One such acquaintance, Allan Stellar wrote recently about the diaspora. He’s a healthcare professional, displaced by the fire, reporting from the Red Bluff and Redding area. He wrote to me about people who survived the initial fire only to die from the health effects of the fire. He said, "I see the vacant eyes of fire victims... We are all affected -- respiratory wise, for sure. That smoke has killed a couple of my clients. That smoke decreases our life expectancy."
There are so many kinds of stress that we fire victims carry. They’re the same kinds of stress we all have known for years, but intensified and clustered. The time stress of having an overload of extra work to get through to keep the ball rolling, such as having the usual job and family responsibilities plus dealing with changes of address, insurance, and acquiring the basics.
I evacuated with the fall clothes I wore and little else. We have four seasons here. One pair of shoes, in any case, is not enough… We manage each little time stress. As I’ve always done, I make lists of things to do. I do something in the present, and I knock items off my list one at a time; yet, I keep adding necessities. My list is always long, but the kinds of things on the list are not like they were before the fire.
Some of the list I write down. Most of this list was in my head: Find the remains of my little coin collection in the ashes of my home (because I failed to grab it in the panic of the evacuation). Soak, scrub, and sort the coins. Find out if and when the local coin shop is open. Take the mangled silver coins to Paradise Coin to get a little return on that investment. Buy a few replacement coins while I’m there, just because. My brother would give me a Silver American Eagle every once in awhile, like for my birthday.
My head is filled with time stressors, mitigated by my management techniques. I also have an inordinate amount of anticipatory stress since the fire. I find myself managing not only my own concerns about the future, but also those of my family members. The decisions these days are large, involving our life savings. We look down the road, trying to figure out which turns to take, making decisions that will affect us for a very long time, for example, our decision to purchase a home nearly an hour’s drive from work, adding to time constraints. (I write in the middle of the night.)
As I recognize the extra psychological and physical stresses in the aftermath of the fire, I remember, “what doesn’t kill me makes me strong”. What doesn’t kill us makes us strong.
Take care of yourselves and each other. Get a bike and ride it in the fresh air. Encourage a friend to get a bike again and ride with that friend. Walk with your dog. Hear the birds carry on in the Springtime. Attack your to-do list after you’ve had some coffee.
Play a little every day. (Get enough sleep.) Work together. Figure out what’s wrong, and make smart decisions.
A falcon flew into our garage today. He kept banging his head against a closed window, trying to fly outside. He was stressed. Finally, with the distraction of a gently placed broom handle, he turned around and saw the wide-open garage door.
Sometimes one must stop and look around in order to see which way to fly. Don’t bang your head against a closed window. The phoenix doesn’t rise that way.
Like a Phoenix? was published in the Paradise Post on April 3, 2019.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.