“On the one hand, nature enriches our soul with its eternal beauty, on the other hand, it enriches our survival skills with its endless disasters!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
What is it like to be a participant in a disaster? I have seen many floods, fires, explosions and wars on the news but I’ve never been affected by them. I have had great empathy but no experience until Tuesday.
I didn’t have a premonition.
At 2am and opened the windows for cool air. The wind was blowing very hard and smoke was coming in so I closed them again. I thought it was smoke from forest fires in the area that had settled in our valley (which is not too unusual in September). The only question was – did the forest fires whip up the wind? Or was the wind whipping up the forest fires?
When I woke in the morning it was still so windy that I went out to rescue my favorite plums from the sidewalk and street where they had fallen.A normal day.
Later my husband was leaving for an appointment and I walked out on the front porch with him. We saw a large plume of smoke in the sky over the neighbors house. Since my husband was going that direction I expected a call from him telling me of a structure burning in our town. The next time I heard from him, though, was that his appointment had been canceled and that there was a huge fire in a low area of Ashland near his doctors office. He was headed home.Minutes later I learned that there were several roads closed and that it was going to be difficult for him to navigate his way.
That was the beginning of it all.
As my husband was wending his way home, My daughters were calling me with updates. The fire was growing at an alarming rate and was rapidly moving up the Greenway toward our town. They urged us to get “ go bags” ready in case evacuation orders were being issued.
The highway a couple blocks over runs between us and the potential burn area, but it was a little close for comfort. Cars were lining up on our quiet street trying to reach the highway. My husband finally came with stories of people on the move.
Things moved quickly after that. Everything has kind of run together
I had set out some clothes and my necessary items for a few days. I began to look at my house: my jewelry, my art, my daughters art pieces – so precious, memorabilia, and the table filled with boxes of photos that I have been sorting from years of albums. I finally gathered five albums assembled from the plethora of photos. “Take these to the car please,” I said. I walked away from the rest. Denial is wonderful. I guess I really thought I would make it home to fix dinner.
My daughters had arranged with friends to take us in at town a few miles away. A normal 20 minute trip took us close to three hours because of the congestion on all of the back roads and byways out of our village.
What does it feel like to be displaced? I was a stranger in a strange land. It felt empty. Dark and gloomy in the smoke. I felt fortunate to have a cool safe place to be and friends who are enjoyable and welcoming. I felt horrified and sad. Intermittent waves of survivor guilt washed over me.
The devastation around me was overwhelming. When we received news that our house has survived it was a great relief but it all seemed unreal. The men considered how long food would stay frozen and after two days my husband left to hook up the generator. (As the neighbors on either side trickled back to camp without water, gas, or electricity he became the power source for them.)
Then I felt separation anxiety. I knew he was doing the right thing but I couldn’t bring myself to join him. I spent my days feeling sorrow for all of the known and unknown friends and family who have lost their homes.
Not that you should, but if you do give, here’s something to consider: Phoenix-Talent School District estimates that 50% of their families have lost their homes, and Phoenix Elementary School is placing that number closer to 80%. If you would like to contribute to a fund to help the families from Phoenix-Talent School District, send a physical check to: Phoenix Talent Fire Relief Fund, PO Box 937, Medford, OR 97501 (Please make checks payable to: Jackson County School District #4). Or you can send a donation via PayPal @AllanaDrossos, or Venmo @Allana-Drossos, and put “Phoenix Talent Fire Relief Fund” as the subject. 100% of these funds will go directly to the families.