From mid-August until recently our valley was filled, off and on, with smoke and ash, yellow light. We were surrounded by the threat of three fires. With nearby Apple Valley under a pre-evacuation order we began to make a plan ‘in case’. In 2002, during the nearby Big Elk fire, we had watched flames just a couple ridges away and prepared boxes with important papers and objects, passports, insurance docs, high school yearbooks(!) and photographs to grab if we had to leave. This year, we revisited those choices of what was important. I threw out early versions of ‘How I Learned to Cook…’ and added my painting inventory books and our artist guest books.
Each day as I prepare meals, I regard the ordinary objects that I use. The small, orange Le Creuset saucepan, perfect for so many things, my patina-ed wooden spoons, the sugar bowl made by my sister Susan, and the tiny basket Mimi wove so long ago with holy palms. They would all be gone in a fire. They have no value but the value I assign with my daily appreciation of these, in the scheme of things, insignificant objects.
Our daughter Zoë is a naturalist who works as the acting director of the Fort Collins Natural Areas program. Since girlhood, she has introduced Bud and me to many wonderful places in the West ─ Canyonlands in Utah, the Colorado National Monument, various hiking spots in her neighborhood ─ Red Mountain, Soapstone Prairie, and Bobcat Ridge. The fires have changed many of these places. Trees and shrubs are gone, landmarks are transformed. She wrote this:
One of our natural areas, Bobcat Ridge, burned on Saturday. All the structures are okay, but it’s totally blackened. Today the ash is raining down from the fire by Grand Lake (was evacuated today, along with Estes Park because the fire crossed the Continental Divide), East Troublesome it’s called.
As I rode home on my bike from my one day a week at the office, the sky was an eerie grey yellow, street lights were on, and bits of ash were hitting me in the face, swirling on the pavement. I thought to myself, those are the remains of living beings. Those ashes are cremated remains of trees, grasses, wildflowers, insects, animals. We are surrounded by death. It is profoundly, deeply sad.
Even more sad that we knew this was coming due to the beetle kill, fire suppression and a century of mismanagement. We didn’t do enough. 2020 is the year of reckoning, the comeuppance year in so many ways. We are reaping what we have sown.
Things WILL get better. In the meantime, one day at a time. That seems manageable. We are surrounded by beauty and kindness too.
So, again, our daughter has taught me. She sees the big picture as I see the small. After this snow fall, the fires seem to be under control. The fire fighters are such heroes. I gaze at the ponderosas that shelter my tai chi space and thank them. I smell the fresh, clean air and watch the snow slowly melt from the slopes of Mt. Audubon, grateful to be here with all this beauty.
And for a sweet ending, make the plum tart ─ https://wordpress.com/post/howilearnedtocookanartistslife.blog/995 ─ using pears in place of plums.
Season the batter with some lemon zest and top with three peeled, sliced pears and a sprinkle of coarse sugar.