Speaker, writer, filmmaker, Ducatista, adventurer

After the Fire

A message of hope for Houston.

Watching events unfold in Houston is deeply personal and visceral — really hard to watch. I lost my home and everything in it during the massive High Park Fire in the mountains of Colorado on June 9, 2012. 

The desperation in Houston takes me back to that day, and I want to offer a message of hope and resiliency to everyone impacted by this horrible event in my home state of Texas. Things will get better. Your life is not over, even though you might feel hollow right now.

Five years ago, I was on a motorcycle in Santa Fe, 750 miles from my home in northwestern Colorado, when the High Holy Shit of calls came through my Bluetooth, through my motorcycle helmet. It was a reverse 911 call from the Larimer County Sheriff.

There is a fast-moving fire in your area. We are enforcing mandatory evacuations. Please take what you can and exit the area.

This was a problem, since we were nowhere near our mountain home and there was no way to evacuate or save anything or really do anything. And the horses. What would become of the horses? They were boarded a mile from the epicenter of the fire. Who would evacuate them? Could they be saved?

It was a helpless feeling–a desperate feeling. And the weight of the moment trapped me like an oxygen-less phone booth stuck in time.

My husband got the call at exactly the same time. We pulled over, took off our helmets and stared at each other, trying to figure out what to do. We decided he would blast back to Colorado on his bike and try to at least salvage a car. And try to save the horses.

I rode back with my parents, who were with us in Santa Fe to celebrate their collective 70th birthdays. It was a long drive. Maybe the longest in history since, my Dad was at the wheel. It was a shitty birthday for both my parents.

We could see the giant plume of smoke when we hit Pueblo. It was epic–and it was still hundreds of miles away.

When we finally got to Fort Collins, we knew there was very little hope for our home. We were in the bull’s eye, and so were 256 of our neighbors.

My husband was able to break through the fire line “at his own risk” and save a car (but not his bike). He grabbed seven cowboy hats as our house filled with smoke. So we at least had hats and a car.

We weren’t able to get to our house for three weeks after the fire. Too many hot spots. And when we were finally allowed into the hole where our house once stood, there was nothing left except a fireplace and some bed springs. The hole was surrounded by Red Cross workers handing out sheets about depression and offering comfort, which was nice.

I made my way through the detritus to where the library once held all my books. There was something under the ashes. It was the stone Buddha from Jakarta, fully intact, standing there defiantly. It was a message of hope.

Eventually the trauma of the fire set in, and Buddha’s head fell off, as did his arms. But he still sits in all his brokenness, in the garden of my rebuilt home and rebuilt life, back on top of the mountain.

The horses made it, too. We were lucky.

The journey for you, my friends, will be long. There will be nightmares and sadness and a pit in your heart. But it will all give way to hope and rebuilding and the future of your great city and your great spirit.

This flood will not define you. It will become a part of who you are and it will become a part of your story. But it will not define you, and you cannot let it.

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