Fire!

Dear Vi,

It’s foggy this morning. Outside my window, wisps of fog stream past like smoke from a chimney. Wait… maybe it really is smoke.  I get up to check. Nope, it’s fog. Relieved, I take another sip of coffee. And then I burst into tears.

A couple of months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens.  The urgent wail came closer, then faded as it passed.  I got out of bed and wandered through the house toward the bathroom as one does in the wee hours. But something was wrong. It took my sleep-addled brain a second to figure it out.

The kitchen wall was lit with a strange orange light. And it was flickering. I could hear a distant roaring sound. I turned around and looked out the window.  Less than 100 feet away, the big fir tree on the edge of our yard was engulfed by flame!

My heart stopped for a moment before I realized the trees were not actually on fire. They were backlit by fire. On the street behind us, my backyard-neighbour’s house was a raging inferno. Totally engulfed.

“Fire! Kelly, wake up, there’s a fire!”

I called 9-1-1. They had already received the call. The emergency crew was already on site.  More sirens came screaming in the distance.

Were we in danger? Did we need to leave? We were running on adrenaline, barely breathing. Everything was happening fast and slow at the same time.

Kelly opened the patio doors and stepped outside. I put on a jacket and followed. As soon as the door opened, we could hear the roar of the fire, so loud. It crackled and popped. We could hear the thrumming engine of the water truck, see great arcs of water shooting from the hoses.

We could also see that it wasn’t the house immediately below us. The house engulfed by fire was on the far side of it. Empty, its elderly owner had passed away less than a month previous.

We got dressed and walked down the street to join the huddle of neighbours watching the firefighters. The sky slowly lightened. Dawn came. The fire burned down, was drowned and washed away.

The next day it snowed.

It was as if Mother Nature wanted to cover all the ugly fright with a shroud. Take it away. Make it better.

Except you can’t cover up a fright like that.

Fight or flee? Huddle or bolt?  This is the kind of fear that lives in the depths of your bowel and in the stem of your brain.  It shares a very old room with fear of the dark and of falling from a great height and of unnamed monsters under the bed.

For weeks afterward, I got up two or three or four times every night…every single night to wander the house. Going from room to room, I’d look out all the windows, looking for the tell-tale flickering orange glow.

Several months have passed since that horrible awakening, and I’ve lost the worst of the urgency. I only check for fire once each night, now. I get up to use the bathroom as I have always done. But instead of going directly back to bed, I take a tour of the house, checking out the windows. And I always check before going to bed in the first place.  I can’t help myself. A whiff of smoke sends my heart racing.

A week ago I woke up at 3am with a terrible sense of urgency. I’d dreamed of fire, of course. In my dream, Kelly was shouting. “Fire! There’s Fire!” His voice ringing in my ears, I got up.  I checked all the windows. Nothing. I put my coat on, shoved my bare feet into boots and went outside. Nothing. I walked out the driveway and stood in the middle of the street. Nothing.

The hulk of my backyard-neighbour’s house is still there. Melting snow reveals charred beams, twisted metal, the blackened refrigerator.

And I’m here in my own house, like the rhinoceros racing by instinct to stomp out flames. Even when there aren’t any.

Gardening in a Sundress: Retired in the Shuswap

Warning: my beautiful pictures have posted upside down again. I do not understand. sorry for the discombobulation…I hope you will enjoy the post anyway.

The early morning air is cool when I step outside and stand for a moment on the front porch. I’m savouring the start of the day, before heat drives me inside to take refuge under the ceiling fan.

IMG_0045

Noticing the flower pots are thirsty, I uncoil a bit of hose and turn on the tap. Water wand in one hand and coffee cup in the other, I douse the containers before moving on to the small raised garden where zucchini hang off the vines and nasturtiums tumble over the side. The sun is warm, but not too hot to stand under yet, so I uncoil more hose and move along the perennial bed, admiring the plants that I put in when I built the bed last year.

IMG_0033I need to research August-blooming plants because there isn’t a lot of colour in the perennial bed at the moment But, I note how each plant has grown and imagine how it will look after another two years pass. I remember reading that a perennial bed takes three years to mature. It won’t be until the fourth summer that it will be in its full glory.

IMG_0041I wander down the length of the bed slowly until I reach the friendship rose, a Blanc de Coubert Rugosa that I brought with me from Whitehorse. I call it the friendship rose because years ago, three of us (Kim, Candy & I) used to get together at each others homes over the summer for tea and a garden tour. We’d admire the progress of our gardens, dream over seed catalogues, plan for the next year. Sometimes we’d go out for lunch or visit a garden center. One time, on the spur of the moment, we all bought the same rose bush. Kim and I have remained in touch, but I haven’t seen Candy in years. I wonder if she still has hers? Sadly, although it is a zone 3 plant, the Yukon is not the ideal climate for a Blanc de Coubert, and my poor little bush just barely survived. It hardly grew larger than it was the day we bought it. Kim’s rose has fared equally poorly. When we moved, I couldn’t bear to leave it behind, so I dug it up and brought it with me. In two summers, the rose has already doubled in size.  A little bit of the Yukon in Sunnybrae. 🙂

Mine isn't in bloom at the moment, so here is a picture I got from the internet.

Mine isn’t in bloom at the moment, so here is a picture I got from the internet.

I water the friendship rose and move on to the blueberry bushes and the rhubarb. This end of the yard is still in the shade, lovely and cool. I see weeds. Oh, the bane of my existence! Beautiful green leaves that display dainty blue flowers in the spring. Foolishly, I encouraged them last year. Now I know better. And daisies, too. Back in Whitehorse I used to chastise Mr. C. when he’d mow them down in the side lawn. I worked so hard to encourage them to grow. But here! Here they grow everywhere. They take over the bed like a cuckoo bird pushing its host’s eggs out of the nest and leaving behind its own to flourish in the rich soil.

IMG_0050I march to the garage. Put my empty coffee cup down and don my gardening gloves. Three-prong hand-rake in hand, I march back across the lawn, drop to my knees and start digging and pulling. Inch by inch the area around the blueberries bushes returns to black soil. I move down the bed, leaving the shade and entering the sun. Under the lavender, more baby daisies are hiding, just waiting to grow up and assimilate the brethern. I yank them out.

IMG_0048A wasp buzzes by on its way to breakfast at the hummingbird feeder and I swat it away from my ear. I think, “here I am, weeding the lavender in the sunshine,” and I can feel myself smiling from the inside out. Did you know that lavender propagates by the root? I didn’t. I don’t think lavender grows in the Yukon, so how would I know how it propagates?  Lo and behold, when I lift the lavender to pull the weeds hiding underneath, I find lavender spikes coming out of the ground more than six inches from the parent stock.

After a while I sit back on my heels and take a little break. My back is sweaty. My head is hot. In only an hour the sun has gone from pleasant to brutal. I stand up and brush the grass off my knees. Suddenly, I realize that I’ve been gardening in flipflops and a dress.

IMG_0032This fact makes me smile, because back when I worked at Yukon College, I used to fantasize about my retirement. One of the things I wanted to do was learn to sew my own dresses. Another thing was to go out in the mornings and water the garden with a hose whenever I wanted to (not just on Saturdays & Sundays during July).

Well, here I am, this morning. I’ve just come inside, to wash the grass stains off my knees with a cool washcloth. to scrub my wrists and arms, and wash the sweat off my face and neck. And I am wearing a sundress that I made myself.

It’s pretty awesome.

Just Write {6} The Hallmark of Summer’s End

Driving in to work this morning down the wilderness highway from Fox Lake

we pass the first clusters of school children standing in the clear morning light at the ends of long driveways

waiting for the first glimpse of the yellow school bus to appear on the horizon.

Tendrils and wisps of fog rise from the wet chip-sealed highway

making misty the dripping scarlet leaves of fireweed gone cotton

the blown wild roses, the foxtails and cold-stunted aspen.

These fledglings scamper madly amongst the hillocks of wet grasses

lunches packed securely in backpacks of hello kitty pink and batman blue

unaware of the long vista stretching before them

thinking only of this moment

this first day of school

this hallmark of summer’s end.

 

This is my 6th installment of Just Write, an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments. I am linking up with The Extraordinary Ordinary.