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Community Green: An unplanned vacation due to the smoke

By Pamela Noel

Special to Plumas News

When the smoke became too thick for me to happily breathe, and the fires were inching closer, we decided on our evacuation plan … look at the smoke map and go where the smoke wasn’t. So we headed to Oregon … as far west as possible. My daughter called it our “evacucation”… an unplanned vacation, camping our way up the Oregon coast.

Before leaving however, I made some decisions about what to take in case I returned to a home leveled by fire. After loading up one rolling suitcase with photo albums I started on the second container. “What could not be replaced?” was the question that guided my selections. A teapot from each of my grandmothers made the cut. My mother’s coffee mug with two baby chicks painted on it was the next item. My dad’s corkscrew and his father’s “cricket mug” joined the collection. I searched for my grandmother’s whale-bone pink corset, but was unable to locate it. As I considered the items I was packing, none of them possessed any utility whatsoever. They were merely pieces of the past, reminding me of those precious people who were no longer with me.

Facing this potential local disaster I also filled the car with items of some utility. Camping gear was an obvious choice … and a few cans of food as I didn’t know what would be open and available on the road.

Feeling like the evacuees that we were, encouraged me to consider the meaning of home. I saw a sign yesterday in a store that read “Home is where the heart is.” As my heart is inside me, that must be where my home is, at the moment. It also made me consider the thousands of people around the world who are also evacuees, but with no resources or hope of returning home anytime soon.

Three of us are now together in our “evacuation” mode. Waking up at our camp site, first thing … we all check in with our separate disasters. My daughter checks the hurricane about to hit her home on the Gulf coast. My partner checks into the Plumas County fires, and I check the fires in Sonoma County, where the rest of my family resides.

Wondering if this is how the future will look, I feel I can do little to affect its present trajectory. But is there anything about this I can control? What can I do? Relocate? Where? We seem to be running out of options. Floods, fires, drought, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes. Everywhere has its own set of issues, which have always existed. It is just that the frequency, intensity, and duration of these disasters seem so much greater now. How do I consider the situation in which we find ourselves?

Pretend it’s not happening (denial)? That only works for so long. Take action? I have no idea, at the moment, what that might look like. Give up? I don’t know how to do that either. Breathe? That’s a good start, assuming one can. And I can … breathe. I also can choose gratitude for what I can do and how I can be. I can talk to a friend. I still can achieve a good night’s sleep. I have these things to be grateful for.

So we are once again, each day, each moment, faced with our own individual responses, which can be as varied as we are. Practicing accepting what is occurring, having gratitude for what we do have in life, and reaching out to others when we can, seem to be reasonable alternatives. These choices about how we act towards others…and ourselves…seem to be where we have some control.

And though my home is where my heart is, a piece of that heart remains in Plumas County.   So I look forward to returning as soon as the smoke clears, with immense gratitude for those folks who are working hard to quash the fires and clear the air for the rest of us.

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