Hard to take, harder to leave behind


By Jim Chase

A great many Crescenta Valley residents – myself included – were ordered to evacuate at least once during the worst week of the recent Station wildfire. My own neighborhood was under mandatory evacuation orders three times in two days. On two consecutive nights, I stood on our balcony in the hot, still, smoky night air, listening carefully to the sound of an L.A. County Sheriff driving through the streets of our neighborhood, using his vehicle’s PA system to order all residents to pack up and leave immediately. From where our house sits on our lot, we can’t see the street out front. And so I listened. Was he coming toward us or going away? Was he already on our street? Was it our time?

Of all the unsettling, middle-of-the-night sounds I’ve heard living in these foothills, including hunting packs of hungry coyotes echoing off the hard cement walls of the nearby flood channel, warring raccoons high in a neighbor’s palm tree, even the snarl of a mountain lion somewhere in the darkness – the eeriest I can remember is the urgent, monotone voice of that officer as he repeatedly broadcast the evacuation order. Several times since, I’ve awakened from a deep sleep for no apparent reason (other than my ever-present 72-pound Golden Retriever laying across my legs) and realized I was holding my breath, listening closely for the sound of an disembodied voice insisting that we evacuate.

When the order finally came, there was an initial shock at the thought of leaving our home in the face of advancing flames. What would we find when we came back? Would our home even be there to come back to? Then, the really hard part begins. What limited personal and family possessions do you cram into your car(s) to take to safety? And which ones get left behind – possibly never to see again? Passports? Check. Marriage license? Check. Jewelry? Got it. Important paperwork from insurance policies, home loans and investments? Check, check and … what’s an investment? Wedding album? Of course. Pets? They’ve already called shotgun.

Then it gets a little more tricky. As in, which of the framed photos get stacked in the backseat of the Suburban? What about that big oil painting of the three dogs that great-great-great-aunt Suzanne painted before the turn of the last century? Can we vote on it? Oh, okay … put it in the car.

Being a writer, I’ve invested far too much on a somewhat eclectic and sizeable library of books. Should they go? Certainly not all of them. And though they would burn spectacularly, most could be replaced. What about all our music CDs? Do we leave those to melt into a big, molten blob of shiny silver plastic? They can be replaced, certainly. And when it comes to our family photos, we digitally upload most of those to an online photo site as soon as we snap them. They are relatively safe somewhere far away and could always be reprinted with the click of a mouse. That’s a comforting thought.

I had many thoughts like these standing outside on our balcony on those anxious, fire-filled nights last month. The threat of losing your home and a lifetime of accumulated “stuff” will do that to you, I suppose.

Then again, every time I felt my pulse quicken, I remembered a piece of scripture that seemed to speak to my circumstances and distress. (Sorry Biblephobes, gotta go all ‘religious’ on you for just a minute.) The passage advises, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Well, my heart may be in heaven, but – being a painfully imperfect person – I was ever so thankful our stuff was all still right here on earth when the fires were out.

I’ll see you ‘round town.

Jim Chase is a freelance writer and longtime CV resident. He can be reached at jim@wordchaser.com.