The New Abnormal

purple Mexican sage, succulents

Assorted succulents against a back drop of Salvia (Mexican Sage)

It’s been a trying time in our beautiful state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in a Sunday press conference called the wildfires ravaging the state “the new abnormal,” warning environmental disasters will only “intensify” over the next two decades.

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” he added.

I’ve been thinking back to my small efforts to bring my garden into alignment with the realities of living in our semi-arid state. They seem trivial now as we wait for rain, watching helplessly as forests burn, destroying homes and lives.

succulent with red tips

Succulents originate from dry, desert locations

red jelly bean succulent

Succulent comes from the Latin word “sucus”

My friend Laura moved to Paradise, California in June, looking forward to starting a slower-paced life away from Silicon Valley. She’s been fixing up their new home, installing a fence to contain their dog and choosing paint colors for the walls. Their contractor just finished a stairway to the deck.

Last Thursday, Laura’s family and others fled the small town of Paradise as one of the fastest moving and most destructive fires in California history tore through her town. Harrowing tales of fleeing down the highway with walls of flames on both sides are the norm. As of this writing, 138,000 acres burned, over 10,000 structures including homes have been destroyed  and the death toll today climbed to 56. 52,000 people have been evacuated.

peach toned succulent

Succulents thrive in sunlight and dry air

On Sunday, Laura learned that her home was one of the 5% that survived, but it’s small comfort. The fire is expecting to burn for another two weeks, and when it’s finally out, the infrastructure is gone. Without phone lines, cell towers or electricity, there isn’t much to go back to. She’s staying here in the Valley with her folks, desperate to return home and hoping her cat is okay.

Meanwhile, a second massive fire burns in Southern California.

assorted succulent

Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti

Our beautiful planet must surely weep with the agony of her destruction.

I appreciate all my friends out of the area that have reached out in concern. We live in Silicon Valley, and though close to forested areas, we’re a safe distance from the flames. Smoke from the fires hangs over the Bay Area, creating unhealthy air quality for a week. Schools are keeping children indoors and local marathons and foot races cancelled till further notice.

There is a sense of collective grief, with everyone knowing someone that’s been affected by these fires.  We all want to help.

smoky skies

Grey skies from smoke

For now, we wait and hope.

68 thoughts on “The New Abnormal

  1. It seems dreadful to hit a button called Like, but I need some way to acknowledge your contribution, and I do love your photos…. For so many of us, fire is the new reality, together with mega-storms, floods and earthquakes. Our Mother is indeed tormented and in agony…

    Liked by 6 people

    • Beautifully said, Kate. We’re seeing the extremes everywhere, fighting an uphill battle, at least in the US, with climate change deniers starting at the highest office. In the early days he had the nerve to blame California and threaten to withhold federal funding. If you can’t admit to the problem, how can you begin to solve it. I hope for future generations it’s not too late.

      Our Mother is indeed tormented and angry. On a lighter note, I’m glad you liked the photos.

      Like

  2. oh hon, my heart is broken for Laura. As you wrote, while her home has survived the flames, there’s no way to live amid the devastation. I can’t even imagine an entire city burning down and so many lives affected. I can’t help be worried for the future effects of global warming. How will our forests, rivers and lakes survive. We may be gone but as a mother, I know you must loose sleep over it.
    Honestly, I almost dread summer after our last one. I know what it’s like to breath smokey air, day after day. It was so smokey, it blocked the sun for almost the entire month of August. If only it would rain !!
    I’ve just scrolled back to admire you fall garden. The things that bring joy is what I want to focus on. My mind can really get lost in the quagmire of things I have absolutely no control over. We will cling to each other and the hope that good days are around the corner. xo love you ❤ k

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello dear Boomdee! It’s been hard bearing witness to this devastation, hearing the stories, seeing the videos and worrying about those that survived with nothing but the clothes they escaped with. It’s finally rained, helping the firefighters bring the fire under control. It’s now 95% contained, though it will likely burn for another week. Laura and her family have moved to a hotel and are hoping to find a place to rent. Still no luck finding Crookshanks, their cat. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh no!! How much could you bare? I would be totally broken. Was Crookshanks an outdoor kitty? I have Petals and Blossum’s carriers in the closet at the door. But in an emergency, I can only hope they’ll come to me rather than hide. I’m happy to hear it’s raining! Finally.

        Dear Laura, moves away to a happy retirement, only to have this happen and back where they started. I hope insurance will be covering all of it! They’re blessed to have made it out together xo

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  3. I have been thinking about you this week as I look at the pictures of burnt homes and cars. I’m glad to know that you are safe, but my heart goes out to Laura and all those affected. I wish I could send you some of our rain – the ground is saturated here at the moment and we really don’t need any more!
    I could weep when I think of the rampant consumerism and corporate irresponsibility that I see all around. I’m sincerely glad that I don’t have children who will have to suffer the ongoing consequences of all this. But, for now, I continue to reduce what I use, grow food, make do and mend and try to spread the word.
    Stay safe and tell all those affected that there are lots of us out in the world thinking of them and wishing there was something we could do.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Jan, for making a difference in the world. We’ve finally had some rain storms, helping contain the fire at last. They expect to have the fire out by the end of this month, three weeks after it started. The loss of life is unbelievable. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had too much rain. I hear the same thing from Pauline in her corner of New Zealand. The world is in trouble. I hope our efforts to reverse the damage aren’t too late. xo

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      • I’m so shocked by the devastation… looking at the pictures of Paradise made me feel sick. Of course, we have mostly stopped seeing news about it now here in the UK because the media is much more interested in politicians sniping at each other than the real global issues that our planet faces. Oh well… onwards…

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  4. Thinking of you all – such terrible destruction. Yet Donald Trump proclaims to the world there is no global warming and refuses to do anything. Somehow I think nature will have the upperhand in this and show him that Global Warming is happening right now.
    Keep safe and I hope your friend can rebuild her life again – fire in some ways must be far worse than a flood the smell of burning must be awful. x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, V. It’s been a trying time for everyone in the state, and the lack of leadership at the top is salt in the wound. We’ve finally had some cleansing rains after 13 days of unhealthy air throughout the state. I can only imagine what it’s been like for people close to the flames. Thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We have been watching the news closely feeling so helpless. I do hope those fires are contained really soon and no more lives or homes are lost. When we see how much is spent on wars in far off countries that are of no threat to us whatsoever I wonder why there aren’t the resources for more planes that can put out fires from above. What a strange world we live in. All the best Alys. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Cathy. We do live in a strange world, where priorities are horribly skewed. It seems were always willing to pay for weapons, while everything else takes a back seat. I’ll never understand it. We’ve finally had some rain with another storm on the way. The Paradise fire is 95% contained, but is expected to burn through month’s end. The Malibu fire has been less destructive with loss of life and property and is now 100% contained. 84 lost there lives, Cathy, with many more still missing. It’s devastating.

      I hope you are doing well and enjoying the approach to the holidays. I had my lovely crochet pumpkin on the table for Thanksgiving, and it is always a lovely reminder of you and your kindness. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The news reports look horrifying. With all the hurricanes, floods and fires around the world recently I don’t think we need disaster movies any more – it’s become the reality for many people. Keep safe and I hope your friend eventually manages to make her dream of a quieter life come true.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Lynn. Laura’s moved into a hotel for now as they look for a place to rent. No luck finding her cat, but they remain hopeful. I too hope she can make that dream come true. So many shattered lives. It’s been hard to take it all in.

      I hope you are doing well. xo

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  7. This is too awful, too relentless, too heart breaking. I know it’s a human tragedy but I get really hung up thinking about the animals that are terrified, too, and dying–I know you’re probably very moved by that, too. I’m glad you and your home are safe, even though this must be psychologically devastating for every Californian . . .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kerry, it’s been so hard seeing and hearing the stories of lost animals, mostly cats as the dogs were easier to evacuate. Facebook is filled with “landmines” of photos that are just too hard to bear. It is psychologically devastating. We’re all feeling the losses and the helplessness that comes with this level of tragedy. We brace ourselves daily for the update. The better news is that the fire, thanks to the rain is now 95% contained. Sadly the death toll continues to climb.

      I feel grateful for all that I have: a warm home, a roof over my head, and the love of my family. It snaps everything into perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. We too know someone who lives in Paradise but luckily they were away at the time. I don’t know what they will come home to. Whether their home survived or not, the important thing is that they’re safe. That’s all that really matters.

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  9. My husband and I have seen those fires on the evening news, and even though we are across the country we feel the horror. Our hearts are with those who are in the fire’s path. So glad you are out of harm’s way. Wish we could send California some of the rainy weather we’ve been having. Yes, to working with what your climate will support! And, I must say, I love succulents.

    Like

    • Hi Laurie. Thank you for your good wishes. We’ve finally had some rain this week, with a bit more in the near forecast. The fires are now 95% contained, but the death toll continues to climb as they search the ruins. It’s devastating.

      I’m glad to hear you love succulents. The more I learn about them, the more remarkable they seem. I hope you’ve had a good Thanksgiving, Laurie. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  10. We’re watching from afar, on one hand thankful we are no longer living in that area, on the other hand frustrated and wishing we could help more directly. Many of my friends and neighbors from Oroville are housing evacuees, or helping out in other ways. We’ve donated money but it feels so strange to be so far away now. Several art connection friends have lost homes in Paradise. Just so heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear so many of your friends have lost homes, Barbara. It must be strange living so far away as this happened after living “around the corner” for so many years. I’m happy to hear that Oroville residents are offering housing. The outpouring has been wonderful. Sending money helps, but like you, a donation feels a bit hollow when the need is so great. It’s not though, and we need to do what we can without punishing ourselves for not doing more. If everyone steps forward, not the least of which is the federal government, the broader problem can be solved. For now we wait for the fires to extinguish. We’re in the midst of rolling storms, so for that I’m grateful.

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  11. We had drought and some wildfires here in East Texas in 2011, but we are on very flat land with lots of roads and ways to evacuate. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be in such a hilly area with only one way out, when a fire starts.
    And we have floods all the time, but something of your house is left after a flood, making it easier to start over, and the infrastructure is all in place too. So the devastation left after these fires is something I can not even grasp. I feel so sorry for those who lost everything.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for taking time to comment. I think floods are equally devastating, but as you say, there is usually something left to start with. That said, this level of destruction and death is monumental in scale. My heart aches for the entire community of Paradise and all they’ve lost. It’s going to be a long road ahead. xo

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  12. I know you will be agonising over this terrible situation and my heart is full for you. I am so pleased to hear Laura and her family are safe. A home left standing in a place of devastation and loss is probably not a lot of compensation. And a lost cat tends to focus our thoughts on loss……. I wonder how many escape and are found again. I have noticed with O that he knows when earthquakes are coming and leaves the building. Are they the same in a fire?
    I know the PTSD that has occurred in this country among those who live in places shattered by our shaking earth and the continued aftershocks taking them back to the terror. This remains a huge problem, receiving not a lot of effective help. Our beloved mother is trembling, drowning, burning and violent winds cover her surface. It is the legacy my generation and the preceding one has left and I am ashamed. But I can still stand witness and do what I can. And I can reach out and help where I can. And I am delighted to find I have a growing appreciation of succulents! ❤ Be safe darling Alys and be quiet in your soul xo

    Liked by 3 people

    • Pauline, thank you for your kind words and understanding and your always-focused energy toward the good. I hope it’s not too late for our planet. I wish the rest of the world would take a page from New Zealand where you’ve put a lot of energy into keeping your country beautiful, reversing trends (like the special island for the near-extinct birds).

      I believe it’s Galivanta who started blogging after the devastating Christchurch earthquakes. It makes sense that PTSD would be present and difficult to overcome. I’m sorry to hear they’re not receiving proper help. A number of the women at Lifted Spirits also experience PTSD. It rears itself in many ways, and I think is often misunderstood.

      Sadly, Crookshanks has not been found. He wasn’t microchipped, but had a collar and a distance crook to his tale. The shelters, UC Davis veterinary school and many non-profits have stepped in to treat injured cats, rescued horses, even a couple of cute pigs. People were able to escape with dogs who come when called, but as you know, cats do things on their own terms. The photos of cats with burned whiskers and bandaged paws is so hard to take. You’re the wise woman staying away from social media.

      Laura’s friend, Christine, evacuated with her four children and three dogs, with flames on either side of the freeway. They made it out alive but there home is destroyed. It’s the same story everywhere. I need to start meditating again, so I can calm my center. Thanks for the impetus dear friend. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • I sent you an email earlier today asking how things were, and this answers many of my questions. Here PTSD is treated with drugs by the medical establishment which does not release the emotional trauma, just dulls the pain and makes life ‘manageable’. Certain psychology practises also don’t know how to lead people to healing. Good listening practises in a supportive and understanding community are very often the leading cause for rehabilitation. Never underestimate the power of a warm heart and supportive listening. Please do meditate, breathe, whatever you need to do for your own peace and solidity. Thinking of you xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

  13. In the midst of my grief over all the destruction from wildfires and floods and hurricanes, etc. my mind boggles at the willful ignorance of the current “leaders” of this nation. The people of California, as well as the rest of the country, are in my prayers daily.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue. I’m with you: it boggles the mind to think that all the signs are there and the “leaders” continue to ignore them. Several mass shootings ago I remember thinking “this is it, we’ll finally figure out a way to control guns” and yet and yet and yet. It’s hard not to feel despair. We’ve had some lovely rain, so I’m counting that as a blessing for our beleaguered state. I hope you are doing well that you enjoyed your holiday. xo

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  14. I’m so sorry Alys, I’ve been thinking of you and all the devastation in your state. How awful! And our baby in chief just keeps sending out insults. California is such a beautiful state, I hate how the fires and floods have destroyed so much this year. Sending good vibes your way and hoping your area stays safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen. “Baby in Chief” sounds about right. I could barely stand it when they said he would come to our state and of course it was as embarrassing and insulting as I expected. Pretty much what we’ve come to expect and have to endure, but nothing we’re terribly happy about. Thank goodness for the Blue Wave, Mueller and all the rest of us fighting the good fight. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

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  15. Oh, Alys … this is all so heartbreaking! Though it’s an enormous relief to hear that Laura’s home was spared, you’re right that there’s little to return to without any modern infrastructure. And the 95% others whose homes weren’t spared — it’s a nightmare beyond comprehension. We can only hope that devastating events like these will create greater awareness of the very real dangers of climate change, and that public pressure will build for governments at all levels to provide both leadership and action. In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to try to minimize our footprint as much as possible and to adapt, as you are doing in your garden. A big hug to you from the north, and please stay safe!

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    • A big hug back your way, Heidebee. The shock is wearing off for many of the survivors as they wonder what next. For many, it means a lost home, a lost job or business and lost animals. We’re already suffering from a housing shortage, so housing these folks, even temporarily is monumental. I need to stay focused on what *I* can do or it all becomes overwhelming. Thank you for being here. Sending love your way.

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    • Thank you, Marianna. Like so many things, it is hard to grasp from a distance. The scale and scope are unfathomable. Our daily news gives us the grim update of the death toll which climbs daily. It’s hard to take it all in. We’ve had a cleansing rain after 13 days of unhealthy air and the beautiful rainbow we spotted gives us hope. There is so much work to do and so much need, but the community rallied and donations are pouring in. Let’s hope we can keep site of this as we move forward. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  16. “The new abnormal” ~ what a frighteningly accurate description. Like everyone else, I have been watching the news, horrified at the devastation. 52,000 people evacuated! And so many deaths. The scale of it is beyond understanding. I am so glad that your friend is safe, and that she can find her safe haven somewhere. I love your succulents, and so pleased that you have found your safe haven. Many hugs xxxx

    Like

    • Thank you, Anne. Funny that I should post these photos before seeing your succulent drawings on instagram. They’re remarkable plants, aren’t they? We’ve had a cleansing rain this week, long over-due and so badly needed. It will hamper some of the efforts to identify the remains, but hopefully it will aid the firefighters in other ways. Our air has been in the unhealthy range for 13 days straight. We’re all house-bound, trying to avoid the thick, dirty air. This was the first real rain in over 200 days! Thank you for your kind words, and for the way you beautify the world with your botanical art. It’s a gift to us all.

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  17. I know lots of people already asking for things and starting GoFundMe sites. I have a friend who wants Christmas ornaments to keep it going for her and her kids.

    I love you Alys for posting this. I’d like to add Paradise is and early retirement community and the working poor. These people left places like the Silicon Valley to live an easier more peaceful lifestyle- or like me went to reinvent themselves. If you plan on making a donation please do so directly to these communities not any old give button where money heads to WDC and a percentage returned to the Campfire victims.

    I haven’t ask For anything, but for the rest of us working class stiffs would you take 30 minutes and craft a well meaning letter to the following:

    Governors Brown and Newson differ on who should
    Pay for the fires. Brown wants to pass the cost on to you the consumer. That BS after all the damage PGE has down to this state in the past 10 years we need to hold Them responsible. Bill 601 started 1/1/2019 not hold the utilities responsible for their damage! Only in 2018 can we put their feet to the fire. Guess what? We are all signing that thing!

    Please write Diane Feinstein who barely won by a narrow margins and let her know that these fat cats at PGE are responsible for distorting California.

    Up for a real task? Write the guy in the White House, Maybe his comment about poor financial management made you bristle. But truth be told Trump cut funds to our national forest in paradise which needed the maintenance money to keep this from happening.

    Lastly, you know someone who lost everything or nothing at all. Send them a hand written note and just let them know they are in your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Laura. I know you and Christine have both started GoFundMe campaigns. Mike and I have contributed to both. It will be a long road ahead but you have my love and support. xo

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  18. The news has been heartbreaking. I cannot imagine the hell these wild fires bring. I am glad your friend made it out okay. It will be a long time before she can return, but at least she is alive and won’t have to rebuild her house. Small blessings.

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    • Eliza, so true. It’s slowly sinking in for the people who’ve lost everything, and even more devastating for those who lost family members who were unable to escape. It’s particularly hard to see all the lost animal posters and the injured animals rescued and in bandages. Laura is grateful to have a home, but after a year where her sister died, and her stepson was found dead of an overdose and now this, I don’t know how she is getting out of bed each day.

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  19. I’ve been watching the fires and hearing the stories of devastation. It’s awful, and as Mr. Brown says, the new abnormal. It’s terrifying. I do think, though, that if everyone made small changes, it would help. And your succulents are so beautiful. We have to balance the beauty we can create against the hardness of reality. Keep making beauty, Alys!

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    • Thank you, Lisa. Such kind words. I’m not defeated, but I am weary and sad and overwhelmed by it all. We’ve had a cleansing rain after 13 days of toxic air, but the fires still burn. It’s a monster. I hope this is our final lesson on what not to do to our beautiful earth.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. You did everything you could with xeriscaping but I know you will do whatever possible to help. It starts at the top and no one is listening. I’m devastated like everyone is at the sight of this burn. I remember driving through our burned areas in AZ for years after the big fire before seeing even a glimmer of regrowth. The reservations began a major campaign to clear deadwood and undergrowth but every October just when the skies were clear and bright, they would back burn so no one could breath. We need real solutions in every area. They are still clear cutting here with nothing to hold the hillsides and then they will build more homes to slide down them in the rains. Has everyone lost their minds? Paradise was not an affluent neighborhood so it was left vulnerable. I’m angry and so sad all the way to my core. The insanity is everywhere and I know their faces. Like you, I’m beside myself with grief for those families and the animals that were in those areas. So many did not survive and it’s heartbreaking. How loud does Mother Nature have to get to be heard? I just don’t know what to do. I’ll do what I can.

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    • It does start at the top, and fortunately California is not going to roll over on climate change. Jerry Brown is a strong environmentalist as is Gavin Newsom so I feel we’re in good hands BUT without cooperation from our current, obstinate federal government, the work will all be uphill.

      I’m stunned to read that Oregon is allowing clear-cutting. That makes me so sad. When are we going to learn?

      The loss is difficult to bear.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Last week, I recorded students discussing Brexit for the research I’m doing. One of them hadn’t been old enough to vote and she expressed her anger at how generations before her had decided her fate without necessarily facing up to reality. Thus, we have a similar situation with climate change, only on a far grander scale. Of course, the average person can do their best but when world leaders are denying the very existence of the problem, it is difficult to make the headway we could to keep temperatures down etc.
    I am glad, anyway, that your home is out of the line of fire and Laura’s has survived. Poor woman – her dreams so badly marred!

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    • Helen, I didn’t know you were doing Brexit research. I hope you’ll share in more detail. Your student is right of course, though this is true of everything in life. We start out small and helpless, then reach adulthood and have to deal with the situation at hand. Our local radio station did a week of coverage last week on Brexit and the complexities that lie ahead. So many things we’re not thought out and the consequences are now at the door. Many of us certainly feel that here.

      Laura is devastated by this loss. Her close friend moved to Paradise as well and saw her home burn to the ground. She escaped with flames on both sides of the road with her four children and three dogs. It’s heard to fathom that fear and loss.

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  22. This is so sad to read. It must be terrifying to live anywhere near those fires. I’m deeply relieved that you (and your garden!) are safe, but your poor friends from Paradise…

    Wishing you continued safety, and improving air quality. It’s all so horrible and frightening and sad.

    On a happier note, your photos of your succulents are STUNNING. Thank you for sharing such beauty.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Phil. We’ve had a cleansing rain at last, and though it creates additional challenges for the search teams in Paradise, it has cleaned the air, dampened the ground and aided the control of the fire. Our air has been toxic for 13 days, so we’ve all felt house-bound, and at the same time constantly aware of the suffering in the northern part of our state.

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  23. You’ve penned it well, Alys, and the “collective grief,” so well said, is heavy! I have a friend in Paradise who lost her home, and her daughter and husband lost theirs as well. For those who have their homes, it must be equally distressing in an entirely different way, since there’s nothing left of the town itself. All services, all life as they knew it, gone. This is truly painful. I think you’ve helped me, though. I’ve had such a “heavy” week and felt sick, physically and emotionally, and couldn’t put my finger on it. It is indeed the heaviness of grief. It’s tangible…along with chewable air. Blessings to you, and we all hope for the survivors of this. There will be much work to do, and I’m hoping we can find ways to be of help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Debra. My heart goes out to your friend and her family. A double loss for them. It’s hard grasping the scope, the sheer magnitude and horrible devastation of this fire. “…the heaviness of grief along with chewable air.” Beautifully said.

      I’m witnessing many creative ways for people to help, and I have confidence in the people of California and our incoming governor to do the same.

      Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

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  24. Alys, more than a foot of snow has gifted me a day off of work, and I decided to use part of it to visit friends on WP. Of course, we have communicated on other venues, but I’ve not visited here in months.
    The fires have been devastating, and of course, Individual 1 added insult to devastating injury. Your story about Laura added a personal touch. I hope she is doing okay.
    Your images are really great, and I’m always grateful for people like you who are working so hard to be kind to the earth and conserve available resources.
    Love you, my friend!

    Like

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