'Out of the Fire': A Fresh Beginning
By Antoinette May Herndon
Imagine being awakened at 4 a.m. Loud cries and frantic pounding, fire fighters demanding that we be out of our home in two hours. No arguments! They were coming back to Mokelumne Hill at six to make certain that we were out and stayed out.
In retrospect, it seems that my husband, Charles, and I went into instant autopilot that morning of Sept. 10, 2015. We worked calmly and efficiently, filling a truck and a sports car, until there was no room left in either vehicle.
Charles is a computer programmer. I write novels. We loaded the tools of our trades first. The computers that contained his work and records, my current manuscript, then first editions of other works.
My jewelry came next. I had nothing precious to save, but in past years I'd worked as a travel writer. There were personal "treasures" gleaned from many parts of the world. Present politics being what they are, it's unlikely that I will ever visit those exotic destinations again.
We wrapped paintings in blankets and stowed all that would fit into our cars, then lowered crystal, silver and china into our pool.
All the while we acknowledged gratefully that we were among the lucky ones with some place to go. Charles has a daughter, Marion, who lives in Stockton. She'd seen the fire on the news and phoned us almost immediately. "Come right away."
Our poodle, Mojo, seeming to sense the invitation, eagerly pranced around the truck. She loves nothing more than a bye-bye unless it's a play date with Marion's dog. Sadie.
Our cats were a different story. Mambo, a fluffy black alley cat; and Rajah, a sleek spotted Bengal, are our best friends. How could we leave them? Yet how could we take them? They're country cats who'd be confused—perhaps terrified—by the busy Stockton streets and equally put off by a feisty, territorial dog. How long would it be before they ran off, became hopelessly lost and very possibly struck by a passing car?
Charles reasoned that Mambo and Rajah, strong, smart, healthy cats would be safest in familiar surroundings.
The smoke was thick when I shut the door of our home. Charred leaves rained down on us. The house is an 1860 Victorian. I loved it dearly, had wondered often about the generations who'd lived there before us. Turning the key, I longed to put my arms around the house, to hold it, protect it.
Was this the end?
In another part of Calaveras County, Monika and Gary Rose, Mountain Ranch ranchers, were observing an ominous plume of smoke somewhere beyond Jackson. "We felt from the start that it was dangerous, "Monika recalls today. "When the wind shifted in our direction, I called our kids in Davis and Sacramento. They came as fast as they could with their trucks. We packed every inch of space.
"As we drove away the forest seemed to roar, trees exploding all around us. The tragedy was that we could only take five cows. Twelve had to be left behind—ready to calve at any moment. Gary tried to go back for them, but was ordered: 'get out now!'"
The last Monika saw of the helpless animals they were herding together in small family
What would later be called the Butte Fire consumed over 14,000 acres in Amador County before spreading into Calaveras County where it doubled in size destroying more than 32,000 acres. Two people were killed and countless animals. A priceless private library was destroyed plus 475 homes. One woman escaped with a snapshot and a spare pair of underpants.
All of the Roses' cows survived thanks to written instructions left by Monika and dutifully followed by kindly firemen. Two calves born during this interval were named for benefactors, Dougie and Lt. Ron.
Charles and I snuck home several times during the weeklong evacuation. Rajah and Mambo were happy to see us but it was clear that their food bowls were being well maintained by a kindly neighbor who managed to evade the evacuation.
Such sustenance is what the new "Out of the Fire" anthology is all about. Monika and her co-editor at Manzanita Writers Press, Suzanne Murphy, are trying heal the community through their company, a non-profit publishing organization.
"Out of the Fire," Monika explains, "It's part of a larger, ongoing art and literary online collection featuring regional writing, art and photography. People are continuing to share powerful and moving stories and poems of reflection, grief, faith, gratitude, hope, and wisdom gleaned from adversity. It's a celebration of living in such a gorgeous place as the Mother Lode and Sierra."
The collection will be available for purchase Saturday (June 17) afternoon at the Angels Camp Museum as part of the "An afternoon with Dana Gioja" event.