My old friends have today made the pilgrimage to see what is left.
I cannot speak for them, only observe that despite the trauma of loss, every bad thing that happens gives us new information.
A wildfire blazes through our mountains, taking out our homes. We understand then, that we can’t make the objects of our lives, even those that relay a narrative whenever we look at or touch them, the source of our happiness.
Or, less dramatic but traumatic still, we have a clash with someone we thought respected us, who turns out to be an unforgiving, small, self-centered person, and then we see that said person is someone to stay away from. We tighten the tourniquet, moving on with new wisdom
My friend Gyorgy, the first person to build in Rist Canyon, was shown on the news returning to what is and is not. Only the things of iron were left standing, and so it is of iron he must and will re-forge himself in the aftermath of the loss. Similarly, my old friend Pat, brilliant, beautiful, who homesteaded in the timber for forty years.
I think of how I would feel if the dilapidated double wide that was Doug’s and mine when we were engaged, where our history has played itself out and writes another chapter each day, still his home now on six beautiful acres, were to be razed by a tornado or devoured by a fire. It is hard enough to see it, and us with it, deteriorate and become other than we were.
Where everything was, nothing. A resounding, calling, lamenting, keening time for grief.
I know that abrupt and overwhelming emptiness and the billowing sense of violation that comes over you when you were deeply attached to something that of a sudden is literally ripped from your arms. I remember a bleak afternoon in Italy when my weeping lover was leaning out of the window of a train that bore him away, and how it was to be confronted with the bare earth and track.
Where everything was and is, an immense flickering space, a kind of vertigo, an existential nausea i.e. what gave my life meaning torn asunder.
Once an adorable rehabbed trailer I owned was razed just as I came around the corner. It had been a home I had written in, wept in, made love in, reared puppies in, recovered from a fall from a horse in… to see it crushed and bulldozed away was searing.
Pat is a wonderful artisan and the matriarch of a wonderful family, She says in a current piece in the Denver Post, re returning to the embers of her house, that she sees some plants fighting to come back. Soon she’ll have the means to rebuild. She’s tough and will keep on at 71.
This is how it is. You think you’re weak, vulnerable, not up to facing life. Then you look back, over your shoulder. You see that you have come through illnesses, divorces, miscarriages, the loss of your career, years of being devalued by your community never finding a niche– but that you’ve homesteaded the real estate of cyber space, reinvented yourself, picked up the pieces of the work that defines you in positive terms. That home is within, a circle of sacred inner rooms.
It’s 4 a.m. in smoky Colorado, a Colorado in which many are swallowing tears and inevitability. It is amazing to me that our species comes through and comes through, adapting, climbing out of the ruins and ascending, to fly over them and look for the spot to consecrate and in turn, pound in the first post.
I knocked a yellow jackets’ nest out of my car door; one flew against me and stung me just below the eye, enraged. Then I became like the yellow jacket, a striped, whirring vendetta. With my kind I built again, secretly, when everyone was sleeping. A repost of my poem Requiem for Rist Canyon follows– peace and love to Pat and George.
Requiem for Rist Canyon
It seems that these days
I am often writing about fire—
paraffin, chaff, ash and smoke.
Back draft, carbon, smelting and cinder:
for tonight Rist Canyon and the Roosevelt burn
and it is the conflagration of the ponderosa
and the basalm and the spruce
and the running of the deer,
the high wailing of the horses let loose
to save themselves, the small rodents
weeping their way
into smoldering tunnels of loam.
Smoke makes a scrim of years:
I see my father leaning out of the car
his face upturned to the trees
looking for dwarf mistletoe
running out of air,
rolling up his canyon maps,
his career as a forest pathologist,
a firefighter in Fort Valley.
I tune in a scanner, and there is static.
I smell the fire in my home
from twenty miles away, its deadly
throbbing heart. I think of the A-frame
where years back we sequestered
politicos on the lam, helping them on
to Canada and where Robert Bly camped
in the cabin up a rocky path,
a Nordic god among us,
an archangel telling the truth
of napalm and valor,
and again of the children, the horses
and the deer, the dogs, the cats in hiding
while the people run?
Do not reference the unspeakable;
now the flashbacks won’t stop, even though
it’s midnight in the canyon
of our decline, the old guard with our
bone erosion, scarred flesh,
dreams down to embers.
They say this has been coming,
our Armageddon, for years.
You can see it on the aerial maps,
Stove Prairie burns,
Rist Canyon is tinder and I wonder about
Gyorgy Vidacs’ above-ground kiva,
if his Navajo rugs are in flames and if
he made it down the mountain in one
of his old beaters; about Baker’s place,
my old history prof, how he defended
the taking of Christmas trees from his land
on horseback, rifle on the pommel:
Pat there living alone, transforming
lichen and needle carpet into gardens;
my philosophy prof’s refuge next door,
my old whiskey-soaked lover’s cabin
in its own perilous valley, path lined
with old canes that belonged to Tomahawk,
a ‘Nam vet, his ashes flung far and wide
during an Apache sing long ago.
And about the old friends who homesteaded
at the Davis Ranch, down that road
in the valley that was paradise, where eagles
felt safe to nest on the bluffs for all the years,
so much history of this place going up,
the exquisite old wooden fences, the early
settler’s cabins, the one room school:
do we need to be purged of the few things
that we permit to radiate consolation
to the tiring soul?
Through the smoke, I see the pig roast
on Sommerfeld’s place
when we danced around flames
that we trusted not to jump the line
while we loved each other
under the pines until morning.
So many years back and the week
we were snowed into the canyon, all of us
in our blue work shirts and bandanas
and long legged jeans,
our dream of common ground,
the collective we in those days;
how we were one for all, all for one
and all in, believing we could reverse
the viciousness of the world
with its flagrant beasts: poverty
tsunami, the terremoto, the quakes
that want to eat the terrain;
the dictator, the war lord,
the plane without a pilot
gifting a village with death,
the rhetoric of draw-down.
Now some part of me wonders if everything
should not be torched
to the ground in a slash and burn on behalf
of the human soul, so that we are forced
to crawl out of the ashes, half Icarus fallen,
half phoenix rising,
but above all, here, now, out of reprieve
and in a deficit of mercy in the acrid
and billowing midnight, all
has become flame,
great scythes of it, swallowing cabin
on cabin, dream on dream.
Jenne’ R. Andrews, June 30, 2012