May 27, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: We All Jump Over the Candlestick


The Cat, My Beatle Cards, Make-Up

The cat was draped across me as I laid reading for just a few more minutes.

I knew it was high time to get going, to rise and greet the day, to embrace my life, or at least shake hands with it. There were calls to make, dishes to do, bills to pay, a litter box to clean.

And I would soon have to make myself presentable for a shift at Shaka Shack and that could take some doing. But the bed was warm and kitty purred against me as a wind howled outside.

The windchimes clanked wildly from the porch and then I noticed another sound: a loud whirring overhead.

A helicopter was circling above. It seemed to grow louder and was coming closer. I held kitty tighter and saw the trees outside bend a little in the wake of the twirling blades of the helicopter, which now seemed about to land on our very roof. Helicopters in Topanga are never a good sign. “Oh, good grief,” I thought. “Now I’ll have to get up.”


I moved kitty aside. Standing in my bath towel, looking out our bedroom window, I couldn’t really see anything amiss but the noise of the helicopter increased. I moved through the living room to our front door and sure enough looking through the screen I thought I detected white smoke rising from somewhere just down the road.

At that moment, good neighbor Barbara Allen, showed up at our door reporting that her computer and phone had just gone down. “Barbara, I think there’s a fire,” I told her. “I think I had better put on some clothes.”

The smoke continued to rise like an unwelcome white ghost come to haunt us. My concern was that I had heard no sirens. Wherever the fire was, it was close. Had someone called the fire department?

My phone was dead. Barbara and I stood looking at each other both realizing this could be trouble. Then in an instant we heard that first blare of a siren. It was a welcome sound as if the cavalry were on the way.

Important Papers, Vacation Videos, Mother’s Necklace

I dashed through the house pulling on clothes, grabbing some shoes and, yes, I applied lipstick (there’s always a chance of news coverage) and ran out the door.

As I walked rapidly towards Red Rock more fire engines zoomed by. “Where’s it coming from?” I wondered and in a moment I saw.

It was the Williams’ house on the corner. There was some kind of power line, fallen and flaming. The cypress trees next to the electrical wire had been set ablaze and a firefighter was just extinguishing them as a group of concerned neighbors looked on.

Fortunately the house itself looked untouched, safe and fine. I thought of the family who lived there. Dylan had been in our carpool just last year. In that moment I wanted to see his bright face and hug him. No one seemed to be home.

Is someone contacting Jill or Kevin? More fire trucks arrived. “Where’s Dawn Rhodes?” I asked myself. “She’d know what to do.”

Topanga Far Outfitters Poster, Laptop Computers, My Glasses, Miranda’s Stuffed Bunny

Mary Colvig, with her splendid combination of gentleness and courage, stood on the side of the street like a familiar Topanga angel. We watched together as ground troops moved into place. Up on the hill hot spots had appeared and soon the big Canadian planes flew over dropping retardant.

Chris came over from Bonnell and James. Suddenly there was Dawn Rhodes, cell phone in hand, trying desperately to get some signal, but nothing was going through. Nevertheless, I ran back to our house to get Jill’s number. In a shaky hand I wrote it down but upon my return to ground zero I saw Jill approach us, having just arrived from Von’s, looking very much like an innocent deer caught in the glaring surprise of the headlights.

“Your house is alright,” we tried to assure her.

The Shakespeare Books From Dad, Photo Albums, Silver Baby Spoon, Purple Boots

“Old Canyon’s closed off,” came the word. “If you leave you can’t get back in.”

How do I get a message to my husband that I won’t be going to the Shack? How will Miranda get home from school? Will she be stuck in the Valley? Will she want her mother? What about the children at Children’s Corner?

A ground crew marches up the hill. Flavia Potenza has arrived, notebook in hand. Someone’s hosing down the brush. There’s new smoke coming from somewhere. How in the world would I ever get the cat into the carrier?

Guru's Pictures, The Little Rocking Chair, Address Book, 455 Topanga, My Doll

A very kindly Old Canyon resident, Brice, miraculously still has phone service and offers to make calls for us.

Because she can’t get into her house I store some of Jill’s newly purchased groceries in our refrigerator.

When fresh flames started up, Dawn went in to pack. I heard Robin had already left. I look around my house. What do I take? Where are those important papers? What do I love the most? How much gas is in the car?

Cash, (Don’t Have Any), All My Clothes, The Christmas Decorations, One Vintage Paper Turkey

I finally drive up near Summit and get cell service. Word reached my beleaguered husband, who, unable to reach me for details, had dashed out of the restaurant and tried to make it home to save our cat if need be (My hero!).

Denied access to Old Canyon, he collected our daughter from school. They are safe and together. I am relieved.

The Children’s Ceramic Creations, One Strand Of Genuine Pearls, Surfboard

For hours emergency vehicles come and go. The coverage is amazing. Dylan and his father make it home. We neighbors share our gratitude thanking all the professionals who kept us safe. The fire is out. The Rhode’s neighbor, Michael, breaks out a good bottle of Zinfandel and actual stemware. Standing there on the street, we toast to our luck.

For the next few weeks I look around our house wondering what I would take.

How do you pack a home in a car? How do you throw lives into trash bags, treasures into boxes? Obviously it’s wise to have a plan. But if there’s no time, you grab each other and the cat and a neighbor and get to safety. The rest, as long as this mind remains to me, are memories.