A little more than a year ago, as I was completing my manuscript, a fire – the largest in California history – swept the hills immediately above my Santa Barbara home. The authorities ordered mandatory evacuation and taking time only to put into the car the family dog, my manuscript and computer, and a few boxes of treasured memorabilia, including family photographs, I got out as fast as I could.
Thousands of firemen from around the country made a heroic stand and saved most of the houses. After three weeks the fire was contained and soon afterwards the evacuation order was lifted. Gratefully I returned home and restored everything to its rightful place.
The very same night came another warning, this time of torrential rains. Because the fire had burned away all the protective vegetation and left the ground slick and non-absorbent, the authorities were concerned about possible flash flooding coming down the mountain unrestrained, threatening the homes below. Another mandatory evacuation. I put our dog and my laptop with the manuscript back in the car and moved the boxes of precious family memorabilia to the second floor where they would be safe.
Or so I thought. The rains that came that night were torrential, of biblical proportions, sending walls of water fourteen-feet high filled with boulders the size of large cars, trees, every kind of debris, hurtling down the mountain at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
Four days later, when I was allowed to return to my home, everything but the chimney and the subterranean foundation were gone. Seven of the eight houses on the street, including mine, had disappeared. Two neighbors who had ignored the evacuation order had been killed. I saw part of the second story of our house hundreds of feet away, tilting crazily against what had been a neighbor’s house, now sitting in a sea of mud.
Everything had been lost.
A week later, my clean-up crew peered through the window of the second story and saw boxes amid the rubble. They were intact, in perfect condition, sealed and dry. I raced over. Everything I had set aside, everything I most cared about, was there, in perfect condition. I don’t believe in miracles, but having those few treasures from my past, especially all the photographs of my parents that appear in my book, is a blessing. Everything else I lost were just ‘things.’