Yesterday started out like any other day. The smell of old campfire wafting into town from the distant Waldo canyon fire mixed with fresh paint fumes from my now beautiful spicy cayenne colored wall. Then, I got my haircut from one of my roller derby girlfriends who works at a salon near my house. After that, the kids and I headed to the pool to cool off and meet some friends. It was a pretty typical summer day.
One of the things we love about the pool we belong to is the gorgeous view of Garden of the Gods and the Rocky Mountains. Today a smoke plume is rising directly behind the ridge from the wild fire and billowed over. We had a clear view of the C-130s and helicopters combating the inferno from the sky. While the kids swam, the adults sat and watched the beautifully choreographed air assault on the flames and took pictures. While reprimanding the girls to save some cheez-its for the boys who were pelting each other in their own water assault.
Until suddenly, in a furious gust of Colorado wind, the flames crested the ridge. And we watched silently in awe. My friend Linda had called just a minute before and told us to come home. That's when it struck me that maybe I should have packed something ahead of time. Important documents and all that vital stuff. Or maybe I should have filled the gas tank. Or had some kind of plan for this. But, I didn't do any of those things. And now, on my way home from the pool I ran into a road block. And, it was bigger than the inconsolable kid who was crying terrified tears in the back of my minivan.
We would have to take a new way home. A longer, scarier one.
We would have to take a new way home. A longer, scarier one which diverted us away from the fire at first and then directly back toward it to get into our neighborhood. Craig was already in the house packing up documents and two crap computers fried by the electric currents in Africa that by all accounts would have been better left to burn. (And that's why I am slowly and painfully writing this post from Craig's iPad.) Jade is now in complete hysterics. I give her instructions to pack her bag and ignore my impulses to console her while I throw whatever I can think of into our luggage.
Craig insists we drive two cars. Isn’t one of the guidelines of emergency situations not to get separated? Reluctantly, I acquiesce and take Jade, Sky and Ember. River insists on going with Craig. Wait a minute, I have no idea where we're going. My gas tank reads empty and Jade is still crying and screaming, Sky won't stop what-if-ing and Ember wonders why she ended up in the crap car. Which is exactly what I was thinking too. While trying really hard not look like I was thinking it. And calmly.
By this time, the sky is inundated with so much ash and smoke it looks like it's night and I have to put on the headlights. Ash is drifting down from the sky like gigantic fluffy snowflakes. So I call Craig to try to firm up the plan, but I can't get through, the network is too busy. The line of cars out of my neighborhood is long, but surprisingly neighborly. No one is cutting me off, honking and no one appears to be in any rush at all. In fact, I'm the only offender. The woman next to me rolls down her window to ask me in the nicest and most neighborly way not to crowd her. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was just driving like I was in Morocco. Which in America is offensive. So, I backed off. Gas or no gas, I didn't want to offend.
After some time, and countless internal battles with whether I should turn off the engine or not to save gas, I reached the gas station. When I got to the pump, the gas supply was shut off just like it was throughout the whole community. Finally I got through to Craig on my cell and we had a plan. If only we had enough gas to make it there.
We came upon the second gas station in the nick of time. I filled up and headed east to our meeting point. Where we were all grateful to just be alive and together. Don't worry, it didn't last long til the kids were right back at it soon enough. It was a good hour while it lasted though.
Later that night, in our hotel room in Pueblo, Sky showed us the contents of his hasitly packed luggage. In addition to too few clothes, he grabbed the family photos next to the fireplace. Some picture of him and his siblings. One of Craig and I and each set of our parents. Maybe my kids really do know what’s truly important after all. Although he probably elbowed a sibling or two to get to them.