I took the back roads home through the Delta tonight, south on 84 to Courtland and over the River Road to 160.  Smoke lay thick on the land.  I used my brights when I could, watching for oncoming traffic.  I could not decide if the rule of fog applied, but I counted on the high beams bouncing from the eyes of frightened deer. An owl swooped across the highway. I slowed and  watched him disappear in the dimness.

Ashes lay everywhere, not from a fire that I had to endure but one three hours north, where sixty-three souls perished and six hundred more cannot be found.  Every night I scan the internet for news of that devastation.  I send a trivial text to my son, just to remind myself that we are the lucky ones.  The unscathed.

One site on social media bears a heavy list:  names of people whom no one can locate.  A string of comments provide the weary edits:  Take his name off, confirmed dead. . .But also a few happy updates:  She’s my aunt, she’s with me.  I don’t know these people, but I know folks like them, men and women who sit in windbreakers at the counter of local cafes, exchanging the same greeting day in and day out.  I envy them from my lonely table at the window.  That’s the kind of folks who died in Paradise last week — retired folk, people’s eighth grade English teachers, the greeter at the Baptist church on Sundays.

A couple of brush fires erupted near me.  This morning I anguished over whether or not to drive to Elk Grove to earn my living.  I only have 200 square feet left in the world, and it has cedar siding and pine walls.  Flames would gobble this place in an instant.  I said a prayer as I pulled away.

It still stood when I came home at eight, over the River Road, through the dark, with soot on my windshield and a cold ache in my bones.  i pulled the blue door shut and stood in the silence.  Time settled around me.  I listened:  The old familiar rattle of the electric heat; rising symphonies of tinnitus; the last rustle of a critter under foot.  Home.  My rectangle of rented dirt and a house on wheels, safe below sea level under a smoky sky.  I let go of a stale gasp of air and crossed to start my dinner in the littlest kitchen I ever hope to have.

It’s the fifteenth day of the fifty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

West Sacramento, late afternoon, 15 November 2018.



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