Oregon Woods, 2021
“Evacuate NOW! ” the announcer screams. The fires are almost at our doorstep. Mom and Dad run through the house, grabbing treasures we can take in the car. I run to the woods. I can’t just leave without saying good-bye.
The forest is still green and moist, even though the sky is a nightmarish crimson. I throw myself down on a soft bed of moss, burying my head in its welcoming cushion. “I am so sorry,” I sob. I reach blindly toward the banks of ferns still dancing in the slight breeze as if they had decades to live, instead of minutes. I can’t bear the thought of the flames, the charred remains of my sanctuary. Every thought is a lethal blow. I force my mind to go blank, allowing only fragrance, touch, sound, sight. I focus on green, moving into ferns, moss, fallen logs, the comforting forest floor. Everything smells earthy, fresh, eternal. But there is no eternal, is there? Stop! Don’t think!
I run my fingers through the moss. It feels so gentle, so forgiving. Does it know what is coming? Enough! Turn off that thought! The little creek – surely it will be safe. Water can’t burn. But it can boil, it can evaporate. Stop, stop, stop!!! Everywhere I turn is a horrible image, an unbearable question. I stumble toward the creek, its joyous rhythm containing undertones of a child singing. I can’t just let all this disappear. Perhaps the Fire God would take a sixteen-year-old girl and leave this paradise untouched. I’d gladly give my life that this blameless forest might live.
“Take me! Take me!” I shout, as Dad crashes through the underbrush, a cloth over his mouth. I see flames licking the ground behind him. I close my eyes and prepare to die. Dad lifts me in his arms, as I were still a little girl, and tenderly carries me to the car where Mom sits staring blankly at nothing, her eyes empty and dead. He carefully coasts past the ankle-high flames, then starts the engine. Everything that ever mattered disappears in the rear-view mirror.