A week ago, I left work heading home south down Highway 1, the main coastal road of Northern California, and saw billowing smoke in a long swath just east of the road. It’s funny how the mind works. I moved last year from a county that was fraught with massive fires year after year. I’ve been thinking, “It’s moister here, right by the ocean. They haven’t had the kind of fires we had over there,” (though, in fact, a more eastern part of this county was home to California’s largest-ever wildfire, the August Complex, which burned more than a million acres in the late summer months of 2020! Could that have been due to the more than 4000 vineyards to the next county south, drawing off the aquifer?) So my mind rejected the idea that I was seeing “that kind of fire.” Controlled burn? I saw a helicopter dangling a red basket thing and my first thought was of stories about them scooping water from the sea to combat fires. Still I didn’t think it was really happening. I came around the curve as a firetruck lined up with another so they blocked the two-lane road. I still thought, “No, this isn’t happening to me, not on my way home.” Those fire trucks were between me and my house, and my daughter.
I turned my car around, headed back into the town of my work and took a road I’d only navigated once before, repeating to myself the name of the road I’d since figured out would come closest on Highway 1 to my home, hoping the fire hadn’t gone far enough east to block this back route as well.
I made it home to a house filled with the acrid smell of smoke and a puzzled daughter. She knew nothing of the fire.
Ultimately it burned about 30 acres. Now I pass blackened areas on both sides of the highway as I travel to and from work. A myth in my mind has shifted.
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