When I started my COVID Diaries, I thought it would be for a while. A season. An interesting few weeks, maybe? I thought our national response would be different. I thought, even if we didn’t eradicate it within our borders, we’d control it.
I did not think I’d be sitting here, almost exactly 6 months later, writing about wildfires sweeping the West, including the fire that’s about 3 miles from our own little house in Oregon while the pandemic rages on, as well.
And I don’t even know what to say about it, Diary. I’m typing in slow motion trying to wrestle words from a brain gone soft.
This is the third night we’ll head to bed with our Go Bags packed — one backpack allotted to each human with a change of clothes, medicines, the most basic toiletries, and “valuables” however we define them. There’s a ragged stuffed bear in one kid’s bag, the final book of the Wings of Fire series in another’s, and the kids’ passports and my grandmother’s ring shoved in mine. It’s a strange exercise, this parsing of things.
Yesterday, we packed the cars, as well, with camping and survival gear. Water. Canned food. Sleeping bags.
And last night I set alarms to wake up throughout the night and check the direction of the wind and the progress of the Chehalem Mountain fire from which many of our friends have already been evacuated.
Last night, the fire reached a 5th alarm, and then a 6th, but by the 6th there was no one left to respond. All local, state, and national resources are being used at (and really beyond) capacity. Still, the firefighters here slowed the progress of the flames we could see licking the hillside behind our house. And today, more good news. The fire is 50% contained as of this writing. We were finally able to receive some desperately needed air support just before sunset, and so we’re hopeful. Alert and prepared to move at a moment’s notice, but hopeful.
Whole towns in Oregon have burned, though. We have friends whose homes and businesses are already lost. Entire cities are at Level 3 “GO NOW” evacuations. Roads are congested with people fleeing, and some have had to move to safety more than once, as previously “safe” locations are hit.
How much danger are we in, personally? Sometimes I think I’m just completely and fantastically overreacting. Nothing will really happen here, right? Other times, I look out my window at the mountain on fire and think of Paradise, California and feel the wind gusts and look at the apocalyptic sky and think overreaction is impossible.
I’m weary, Diary, of being constantly alert. Just so, so tired. And if I’m terribly honest, it’s a weariness of months, not mere days. Because our world has been on a slow burn for a while now, topsy turvy and upside down.
I feel guilty being exhausted, though. I’m not a firefighter up there battling the flames; I’m a spectator watching the lights flash. I’m not sick from COVID; I’m just keeping my family in masks. I’m not a teacher relearning everything I knew about how to connect with students; I’m a writer still writing, putting one word in front of another, trudging a familiar path. What right do I have to be tired?
Then I remember it’s not the Suffering Olympics, and I’m allowed my exhaustion without the need to measure its worth by another’s experience. I’m weary. The end. No justification required to admit I’d like to catch my breath.
So. That’s where I am, Diary. That’s it. My world is on fire, and I’m spent.
I’m going to drink a glass of water to take the edge off my brittle, scratchy throat. I’m going to set my alarms for the night. I’m going to try to get some sleep. And I’m going to send all the love I have — every scrap — to the rest of our weary, parched world.
With love, and waving in the glowing, ashy night,
HUGE THANKS to Todd Klingler of Todd Klingler Photography who allowed me to use the stunning images of our small Oregon town he’s captured over the last few days. The sky really is that yellow and red. It’s surreal. Like we’re walking around on Mars.