“So how are you doing up there in Walden?”
“Well, we’re hanging in there. But we’ve got all our stuff packed, in case we need to evacuate.”
“Yes, us as well. You can never be too careful right now.”
It’s been the season of never-ending wildfires. As we try to hang on until the snow starts flying, a lot of my friends in other parts of the country ask me a simple question.
“Why do you stay?”
I could pretend I didn’t know better, but that would be a lie. I’ve known the dangers of wildfires since my first season as a Park Ranger at Sequoia National Park. I watched a fire explode over the course of 4-5 hours while patrolling Moro Rock.
The flames, the speed at which the fire moved, the giant smoke plume. It was a sobering scene.
Then I went on to take training to become a Type 2 Wildland Firefighter. I learned about weather, topography, safety zones. More knowledge about the power and fury a fire can exact on the landscape.
Finally, four weeks after we moved to Nederland, we experienced Boulder County’ most destructive wildfire, Fourmile Canyon.
I remember freaking out, being terrified, afraid to go to sleep at night. What if a fire broke out over night?
This all came rushing back this week while on the phone with some people who are just moving here from Chicago.
“So just how many times have you been evacuated?”
“Just three times over 10 years.”
There was a moment of silence.
I could just sense what was going through her mind. Why on God’s green earth would I want to leave Chicago and my safe suburban home and move to a fire pit?
What a difference ten years make.
Now it’s just part of the Faustian deal I make to live in the mountains. I know the risk, but in my mind the benefits outweigh weeks like these. All those days of hiking mountain trails, views of snow-capped peaks, camping by a pristine mountain lake.
Days of swooping through powder while skiing through the trees. Or a seeing a snowshoe hare as I glide through the woods on my cross-country skis.
You learn to adapt to survive wildfire seasons like this one.
Despite all the mayhem, I really don’t feel that stressed out. I watch TV, read books, go for walks, and generally sleep well at night.
Adapting means doing what we can to mitigate our house — clearing the conifers within 30 feet around the house. Laying a five foot wide gravel barrier, sealing all the cracks and gaps where embers can get in.
And getting ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, thus the pile of boxes, pet food and go bags off to the side of our Great Room.
I’m sure it does seem crazy to live in this kind of uneasiness. But it’s not the first time I’ve learned to adapt.
I lived in San Francisco for four years in my twenties. Tremors from earthquakes frequently awakened me in my bed at night.
While flying back east, my seat mate started up a friendly conversation with me.
“So are you from San Francisco?”
“Yeah, I live right in the city near Divisadero and California Streets.”
“Do you worry about the Big One?”
“The Big One? What do you mean?”
“You know, earthquakes. They say it’s just a matter of time before the Big One levels the city.”
I laughed. “No, not really.”
There’s a lot of places in this country that have a threat of natural disaster — floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and yes, wildfires.
But I know this. Living at our mountain home the last ten years have been some of the happiest years of my life.
So I adapt, and I embrace the risk.