Poet Donald Turner Joins us today with a little sky ditty.
Drifting sky of white on blue
Painted sky in Autumn hue
Sculpted sky in shades of gray
Twinkling sky at end of day
photo credits: giphy.com, freepik and David K. Prothero
We’ve seen her brilliant and horrifying photo, now here is Cathy’s experience of the terror of the October fires. Please welcome guest blogger, Cathy Carsell.
Cathy Carsell writes from the heart, taking inspiration from natural beauty and emotional essence. A songwriter, poet and editor, she graduated from San Francisco State, becoming an audio engineer in the burgeoning music industry of the Bay Area. An avid sports fan, Cathy breathes and thrives in the captivating community of the Napa Valley.
Mid October night
Especially long hot summer
Red flag warning, trees falling
Alarm bells ring in my head
Wild wind whipping
Power lines snap
sparking dried tinder
from years of drought
Look out, look out there
ridge of flames rises
as we stand on my deck
Alarm bells ring in your head
Alarm bells ring in your head
Send up a prayer for the dead
You know you’re going to find some dead
Fire don’t discriminate
You’re in it’s way you’re done
Faster than a man can run
Run everybody run
Grab your kids and grab your dog
No time to hesitate
No warning it’s too late
Like a tsunami wave
Only your life to save
Alarm bells ring in your head
Alarm bells ring in your head
Send up a prayer for the dead
You know you’re going to find some dead
Five fires in one night
How we going to fight this fight
Wind whips a firestorm
Racing over miles and miles
Taking homes, taking lives
Check on Grandma
Roll her down
Load the horses, get the sheep
Pray for all our souls to keep
Through hot blazing nights
Alarm bells ring in our heads
Alarm bells ring in our heads
Sending up prayers for the dead
Know we’re going to find some dead
Check with friends and family
tell them I’m OK
I know I’ll never be the same
after these October days
Alarm bells ring in my head
Alarm bells ring in my head
Sending up a prayer for the dead
Glad I’m not among the dead
If any of you would bring judgment the unfaithful wife,
Let him also weight the heart of her husband in scales, and measure his soul with measurements.
And let him who would lash the offender look unto the spirit of the offended.
And if any of you would punish in the name of righteousness and lay the ax unto the evil tree, let him see to its roots;
And verily he will find the roots of the good and the bad, the fruitful and the fruitless, all entwined together in the silent heart of the earth.
And you judges who would be just,
What judgment pronounce you upon him who though honest in the flesh yet is a thief in spirit?
What penalty lay you upon him who slays in the flesh yet is himself slain in the spirit?
And how prosecute you him who in action is a deceiver and an oppressor,
Yet who also is aggrieved and outraged?
And how shall you punish those whose remorse is already greater than their misdeeds?
Is not remorse the justice which is administered by that very law which you would fain serve?
Yet you cannot lay remorse upon the innocent nor lift it from the heart of the guilty.
Unbidden shall it call in the night, that men may wake and gaze upon themselves.
And you who would understand justice, how shall you unless you look upon all deeds in the fullness of light?
Only then shall you know that the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self,
And that the corner-stone of the temple is not higher than the lowest stone in its foundation.
Text from PoemHunter.com
Guest blogger, Jan M. Flynn is the author of Corpse Pose: And Other Tales. Her stories appear in literary magazines and anthologies; two have won awards in national writing contests. Her debut novel The Moon Ran After Her has been excerpted by Noyo River Review. Jan lives and writes in St. Helena, CA.
Jan’s memoir, True Crime, reminds us sometimes we need to forgive ourselves.
In sixth grade, I took up shoplifting. The new set of friends I aspired to were a year older than me and already in junior high, so their rung on the social ladder was several steps above mine. It was going to take more than go-go boots and a smart mouth to infiltrate their tribe.
This was made clear one Saturday afternoon when Betsy, Valery and Cindy — three of my new compatriots — and I walked the three miles to the mall for a slow cruise through J.J. Newberry’s discount store. We had nothing to spend but time, having blown our allowances on pizza and Dippity-Do for our slumber party the night before, but Newberry’s was always worth a look. It carried everything from paisley-printed tent dresses to live chicks at Easter, and for us it served as a pop-culture training ground.
Moreover there was the slight prospect of encountering Sam Blakeman and his friends there. Blakeman was in eighth grade, had long surfer-style hair that fell into his eyes in just the right way, and liked to be seen with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. Of course we didn’t expect to actually speak to him. The hope was to simply observe from a safe distance and discuss our findings afterwards.
We made languid progress through the aisles, thumbing through the .45 records, scanning the teen magazines and lingering over the discount jewelry. I trailed my companions, doing my best to emulate their tough-girl saunter.
Blakeman and his crew were nowhere to be seen. Time stretched. My attention wandered. I drifted into the pet section and was chatting up the parakeets when Betsy appeared at my side, gripping my arm with sudden urgency.
“Here you are. C’mon!” she muttered, already towing me toward the exit.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Christ on a crutch, shut up,” she ordered in a fierce whisper, “Let’s go!”
Impressed with her blaspheming, I kept silent as she propelled me through the crowded store, past the exit, and down the walkway in front. We didn’t stop until we reached the entrance to Macy’s, a half-block away. There we rejoined Valery and Cindy, who leaned against a low wall, Cindy smoking a Marlborough with elaborate nonchalance.
“So what’d you get?” Betsy asked Valery.
Valery, with a renegade smirk worthy of James Dean, stuck out her tongue to reveal a small unicorn pendant on a silver chain.
Realization dawned. “You stole that?” I gasped.
Valery spit the trophy into her palm. “Five finger discount,” she explained. “Everybody does it.”
By “everybody”, she meant anybody she would want to hang out with. A flutter developed somewhere below my ribs. I had always been a good girl, obeying my parents, getting good grades, going to church. But I saw now that something more was demanded of me.
It took me a couple of weeks to work up the nerve to steal something myself. As it was, my career was short. I got away with one successful heist — a lipstick fished out of a clearance bin at Woolworth’s — and the combination of suspense, danger, and guilt made me giddy. Valery and the others granted me their cool approval.
Not long after, I was with one of my neighborhood friends, Sally Peterson, a playmate since preschool. She and I were in the same grade, relegating her to my social B-list. We walked down Harbor Street and along 6thAvenue toward downtown, a drab two-block commercial strip. I was practicing my swagger, wearing the pants I had wheedled Mom into pegging tight all the way down to my still-pudgy ankles. As we neared the drugstore, I let Sally in on the secret of my new thievery skills. She was satisfactorily shocked.
“It’s no big deal,” I said. “Watch this.”
I sauntered into the store, Sally in tow, and browsed its dusty aisles. Behind the back counter stood the pharmacist, who was also the owner. A balding man in horn rim glasses and a white lab coat, he noted our presence with an unsmiling gaze. My heart began to hammer, but after my boasting I could hardly back out now; Sally was regarding me with expectation. I scouted feverishly for something suitable. Face powder? No, too big. Nylons? Too hard to slip the package off its display spindle. At last I settled on a 5-cent candy bar from one of the open bins near the front of the store. A mere beginner’s trophy, but it would do to impress Sally Peterson.
Stomach churning, I palmed the Hershey bar, shoved it into my pants pocket, and yanked my sweater down over my hips. Stifling nervous giggles, I eyeballed Sally and jerked my head toward the exit. We hustled out of the store without buying anything, which on reflection was a mistake. As we left, I felt the pharmacist’s eyes on us.
Once we were outside and half a block up 6thAvenue, I exhaled, grinning at Sally. Lifting my sweater, I showed her my prize. She looked at it doubtfully, and then her eyes widened. I was just about to conclude that Sally was too square to bother with, when a large hand gripped my shoulder.
I was spun around to face the apoplectic pharmacist. He grabbed the candy bar out of my hand. “You thought you were smart, didn’t you?” he shouted, his eyes blazing. “You thought you’d gotten away with it, didn’t you? But you had to show her” — he nodded toward Sally, who stood mute with horror — “ and I was watching you. You’da gotten away with it if I hadn’t seen you do that, but you thought you were smart, didn’t you?” he repeated, his eyes bulging behind his horn rims.
“I have to go home,” announced Sally, and fled.
The pharmacist couldn’t stop her without releasing his grip on me. “You’re the one who stole from me, “ he bellowed into my ear, “You’re coming with me!” This seemed an unnecessary remark, since as he yelled he was frog-marching me down the sidewalk toward his store. Once we got there, he hauled me up to a chair behind the back counter and plunked me down. “You sit there,” he shouted, “while I call the police!”
It didn’t even occur to me to run or to plead for mercy. I was so clearly guilty, and besides, I couldn’t speak. I was blubbering and choking with sobs and unable to believe what was happening to me. As we waited for the police to arrive, my captor kept up his tirade: “I see you kids in here, thinking you can just steal from me. If it weren’t for kids like you, I could take my family on a nice vacation!”
It was one thing to flirt with being bad; it was quite another to have an adult place me squarely in the class of bad kids. I was a good kid, just conducting an experiment, and it had never occurred to me that there could be a connection between a 5-cent candy bar and depriving a family of their vacation.
At length the squad car pulled up, and a weary-looking policeman took me into custody and down to City Hall. He didn’t handcuff me, and in fact he was rather gentle, but he did his job. He walked me down the cement steps to the station, right past the City Hall park where kids played. Some of them were boys I went to school with. They stopped and stood slack-jawed as I performed my perp walk, my face wet and burning.
I had to sit on the wooden bench and wait while my parents were called. Mercifully, my father wasn’t home, so it was my mother who came down to get me and to talk to the captain. He spoke to her in low, serious tones. I didn’t have a previous history, so I would be let off without probation and if I stayed clean, this wouldn’t appear on my permanent record.
All I could think of was that life as I knew it was over, and that I wasn’t going to get to go to the Beatles concert at the Cow Palace, which was only two weeks away. My friend Jeanine, an only child with an indulgent father, had tickets for herself and a friend, and she had chosen me. My mother had bought me a new dress for the occasion, a plaid wool sheath with a lace collar, just like what I imagined girls wore on Carnaby Street in London.
But now I was certain to be a pariah, too morally contaminated for anyone to want to take anywhere. Besides, my dad would be killing me soon.
My mother’s face was set in an odd, constricted smile as we drove away from the police station and up the hill to our house. She said very little. When we got home, I didn’t need to be told to go to my room. I flopped face down on my bed and gave myself over to despair. I clung to my chenille bedspread and gazed through swollen eyes at the white organza curtains, watching the shadows gather on the window shades. Time passed.
Eventually the wheels of my father’s Chrysler ground into the driveway. In the kitchen, my mother’s voice and his mingled in a long, muffled conversation. I had been suspended in a vortex of dread for hours, but my heart lurched anew when the conversation stopped and ponderous footsteps came down the hall.
At length my bedroom door opened — in a normal manner, which surprised me. I had expected it to fly off its hinges. In came my father.
He stood, all six feet, four inches of him, at the side of my bed. He surveyed my wilted form. I met his eyes for a breath and then began sniveling again. My father’s silence was eerie. He didn’t look enraged. In fact, he didn’t even look angry. He looked puzzled. The silence continued, and I began to realize that he didn’t have any more idea of what to say than I did.
“I’m — I’m sorry!” I finally managed to gasp, and I meant it with all my heart. This unleashed another shuddering fit of tears.
Dad observed soberly. At length, when I had settled down slightly, he shook his head and started out of the room.
“Well, I guess you won’t do that again,” he said. “Supper’s ready.”
Please welcome guest blogger, Dina Corcoran, whose poem, Forgiveness, offers a surprising glance into the subject. Dina is a memoirist, poet and survivor of the 2017 Tubbs Fire. She has won awards two years running in the Jessamyn West Literary contest.
Forgiveness isn’t for the perpetrator of our hurt, it’s for our own peace and happiness. Not letting go of hurt, pain, resentment, or anger harms us far more than it harms your sister, boyfriend, mother, boss, wife, friend. It frees us to live in the present without anger, contempt or seeking revenge. In fact, it doesn’t only free us from negative feelings and actions, it reduces depression and stress, allowing us to embrace peace, hope and self confidence. Forgiveness is a balm of healing for hurt, grievance and guilt; it is not acceptance of wrongs done to you or wrongs you have done to others. And it isn’t quick and easy—it’s a practice.
In the coming posts, writers will express what forgiveness means to them.
Forgiveness by Ana Manwaring
Time, that yoke, that feckless lover,
a raptor flying ever forward
into the mythical land of yet to be;
might time bring forgiveness?
Perhaps with time comes peace.
Maybe peace is here now
and—walking our paths with us.
Maybe now I can forgive.
Maybe this is the lesson in letting go
I learn anew each moment.
This, the pain that dogs my heels,
a village cur, a half-wolf, half-dog,
lapping up scraps from my middens.
He nips at my ankles,
my outstretched fingers.
He growls and jealously guards his prize.
How his tiny sharp teeth gleam
in the dull morning light.
I lay open my heart;
my blessings release
to whirl the clouds.
The pack howls in the distance.
Stay tuned! And thanks to BrainyQuote.com for these excellent memes.
by Noel Robinson
I want to write, however I am always struggling with deadlines, arcs, and two pages, double-spaced limits. I can’t always stop myself from self-editing as I write. Too many adverbs, that’s a weak verb – use an active verb that describes fully the moment, change it up – your audience needs variety.
I accept the challenge of writing. It makes me feel alive. I am doing something important. I am having my voice documented if not heard. I hear it.
But! The problems with writing—when is a piece ready to be examined? Does there have to be an arc every time? Can I quit stressing and feeling pressured by getting my story out?
I want to express myself. I love being creative. Maybe I am in an advanced level class and need to wait, start simpler, and enter the writing world of critique when I have a backlog of pieces. I started writing in a journal seven months ago without any thought to taking a writing class. A book inspired me to explore the topic – this would be fun to do in retirement. I do not have a plethora of essays to draw on for revision. Everything is “square-one” fresh with me.
I love the class—the instructor is an editor that is devoted to her writers. This is gold. The writers are supportive of each other. This is a precious meld of people, strangers really, which comes together to support me and each other (can’t use that word again – I just used it in the previous sentence. Oh no, don’t use the word “just” it’s an empty word. I am sure I used the word “waste” in a previous paragraph…no – I don’t see that I did.)
I need gestalt applied; I use the rules and guidance, however it’s never enough for me. I need to know why I am using that rule and where that guidance is coming from. I have to process and walk around the entire project to know where I am.
I struggle with the “arc.” I know what it is (yet I feel there are many ways to approach it.) I have two weeks to write my piece that needs to be two pages, double-spaced. I feel the pressure to get it right, to nail the feelings and insights; to dig deep and express the nectar of truth. Yes, I am a perfectionist. I have been placed in a situation where I want to show I learned the craft and respond to all critique on my next piece. This is a stress to me and in the future may quell my appetite to write. I may go back to journaling and keep to myself.
I have experienced the journals, memoirs, and autobiographies of others and been deeply touched—responded to their voices with emotion, understanding, and growth. Writing is powerful. I am empowered by the writing of other authors, and I am in awe of the things I produce. I have things to say that surprise me. I have a plethora of ideas, thoughts, new truths (screw the repeated word.) Words have given me insights into my own life.
I am interested in continuing this venture.
I can tell a story. So what? Is that enough? I respond in the negative; everything has to have a purpose, a reason to exist—really? If I gain pleasure out of writing, that is good. If I never share it with others—that is good, too. However it feels selfish to deny others the things I enjoyed. (Catholic guilt!) I can tell the story out loud to friends, family, and acquaintances. I can write my thoughts in my journal. Reading my written words to others for the purpose of gaining skills in the craft of writing is terrifying. This is what I signed up for—I wrestle with why I did this to myself.
I am joyous when I write something that tells my story and acknowledges my experience. Why? I don’t have an answer. . . .
I change a piece of my writing, remove dialog and see how this changes the story. Oh, it helps to rein it in at two pages. Is this the only way to learn about the craft of writing: to do the assignment and worry about figuring out the arc or meaning later?
I need to stop arcing! Just write the story and let the reader find his or her own arc. That is valid, however I don’t get anything out of it. I want to be prompted to surprises, new insights; to me this is the joy and importance of writing. I guess I just answered my previous question.
Do I write a story, make it interesting? Leave out the feelings, emotions, relationships, analyzing…? Do I write like a scientist: present the facts in such a way that the reader can’t help but draw conclusions?
Is writing for the audience? Can it be for me? Why do I pressure myself by participating in a writing group? When I tell a story verbally, it is just the facts. The listener knows by my non-verbal cues, expressions, and tone of voice what the story means to me. They enjoy the stories I tell out loud. They “get” the nuances, absurdities, and comedy.
I take my writing a step further on purpose. I tell the reader how I feel, how I was changed, why this experience was important to me. Am I just drilling in a point that is obvious?
I have come close to quitting this class on a weekly basis. This is too challenging, my writing isn’t at the level of the class, and it is too hard. Then I read something or hear someone else’s story I think, Oh my, this is huge. Stories need to be shared with others no matter how hard or challenging or scary. I read a few sentences in a memoir recently and was crying—sobbing—at one point, at the description of the Father’s interactions with his daughter. I have had a different experience than this daughter and I notice the contrast. I feel the deprivation of being raised by my Father instead of by hers. It is important to me to recognize this difference. It is my experience and it was different from the writer. I needed to hear that there are differences in order to make connections to my own life story.
Poet Theresa Ortez re-joins us today with her wisdom in the wake of the October fires.
Napa Valley Fire
Our valley filled with smoke
Hearts with love
Tomorrow is promised to no one
Bringing joy, sometimes sorrow
At times you may cry
Like a beautiful cloud
Life passes in the blink of an eye
Shelters filled: men, women, children
Animals running for their lives
No safe place in sight
Flames and smoke in sky
Saying prayers for all who died
For those who have lost all
My tears fall
Open up your hearts and feel compassion
Love and prayers for all
Mary Jane Stevens concludes Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror during the Atlas Firestorm.
…continued from March 27th—
After hours waiting with a huge knot in my stomach, I heard from Bob. Away from the fire, off the hill and heading towards town he was relieved to be a survivor, not a victim. He said he was exhausted, coming down after a night fueled by adrenaline. Never have I been happier or more relieved to hear his voice. I felt as if I’d been holding my breath for hours. Finally I could breathe.
I told him to drive over to Carolyn’s house where, assuming a positive outcome, she had waited up for him. He could stay as long as he needed. He headed west, dodging burning debris and skirting around roadblocks. As he drove he told me what he had just lived through. I wished I could be there to hug him and tell him how glad I was that he was alive, unhurt.
After talking to Bob, Casey was the first person I called, happy to tell him his dad was okay. He was ecstatic to hear the news. He was not so thrilled, to hear that it was almost a certainty that our house would not make it through the fire. My next call was to Carolyn to let her know Bob was safe and on his way. I left a message for Kelly.
When Kelly turned on her phone Monday morning, she was bombarded with voicemails and texts containing grisly details about the fire and concern for her family, including some from me. Horrified and in tears, she called me immediately. She hadn’t listened to the message I left with the good news about the man she calls “Her cute little Daddy.” When I told her Bob had escaped, unscathed from the fire and was okay she cried tears of joy. After a moment she said “Oh no, does this mean your house is going to burn again? I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry for you guys.”
Later when I spoke to Casey I asked if he envisioned Bob’s body burned in the vineyard as I had. Just as I thought, he told me that was exactly what he had imagined. As a firefighter Casey’s seen the horror of being trapped by fire. Although he hasn’t spoken to me about how those things have affected him, I know he has hardened his heart so he can live with what he sees on the job. When he thought his dad might die in the fire his heart was anything but hard. I know neither of us has ever been afraid for a loved one as we were for Bob the night of the fire. We both teared up, relieved that Bob had been saved as the fire raged on.
Once the L.A. Fires were contained a strike force was formed to help with the Napa fire. Casey volunteered to be part of it but was not allowed to join. He was terribly disappointed. Determined to help us, he was able to contact a Captain friend, part of the strike force, on his way to Napa. He gave him our address and asked him to try to be assigned to fight the fire still burning there. Ultimately, he and his contingency from L.A. worked for several days, never taking a break, defending our home and our neighbors’.
I heard from a neighbor that one day, fourteen fire engines, one for every still intact home, several bulldozers and helicopters were trying to control the stubborn blaze. Boeing seven-forty-sevens were dumping water and retardant on the fire. Hot shots were digging fire lines as was a corps of bulldozers. I heard that Battalion Chief Garrett said, “They were going to put the nail in the coffin of the fire in Soda Canyon that day.” I prayed they would.
We got little specific information applying to Soda Canyon. I tried to manage my expectations by telling myself our home must have burned, surviving the inferno seemed impossible, but not knowing was driving me crazy. When I couldn’t stand it anymore began calling people who might have news. I phoned a neighbor who was in Reno. She picked up saying “Your home is still standing Mary Jane! My son didn’t evacuate and is staying at our house. He got word to me earlier today and our homes are okay.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. I burst into tears, delighted. The following day I received a photo of our unscathed home sent by a firefighter who’d been camping nightly in our driveway putting out stray embers. Seeing with my own eyes my home safe and sound was unmistakable proof.
We later heard that, initially, the command center wasn’t planning to send resources up Soda Canyon until Casey’s friend asked to be assigned to that specific location. It seems they were stretched so thin they only wanted to send firefighters to areas they were sure could be saved and ours was not on that list. Under those circumstances, why they allowed those men to work the fire by our home remains a mystery.
For many days the Atlas fire and others spawned by that blaze wreaked havoc across Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, people died and many lives are shattered.
Not one of the homes in Foss Valley at the top of Soda Canyon Road, including ours, was lost, thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, hotshots from around the country, fire-retardant and water dropping seven-forty-sevens and helicopters. I will be forever grateful to everyone who had a part in saving my husband and my home. I owe them so much. I’m blessed for such a positive outcome when so many are still suffering from terrible losses.
Many people assumed our home burned, and when I tell them it’s still standing they are as incredulous as I am. How did we ever get so lucky?
One explanation: it’s a miracle.
Mary Jane Stevens continues Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror on the night the Atlas fire started.
…continued from March 14th—
Later, Bob would tell me his incredible tale of his experiences that night.
Bob said he felt a little better that he knew they had been located, but they were still very much in danger. The wind was loud, the sky dark and the smoke was suffocating. In the wee hours of the morning the wind buffeted his bare face, ears and hands when he got out of his truck. He was anxious to get off the mountain. When would help return? Would help come in time? Everything he saw proved his situation was grim. The black velvet sky was now clouded with smoke and sparkling with glowing embers, some very large, swirling in the howling wind. He prayed those embers would not land on a roof starting a fire that would create a chain reaction taking all the homes down. Ghostly clumps of smoldering scrub dotted the nightscape in the distant periphery, surrounding him like threatening wild animals ready to pounce and devour everything in their path. An ominous orange glow at the horizon was the most terrifying sight of all. Would the wind shift again and send the fire over the homes and directly toward Bob?
Of the entire group of vehicles only three joined the convoy. Bob wondered why there were only three. A week later we found out at a party for fire survivors. Before he reached the evacuation area helicopters had evacuated all the people from the parked vehicles. They weren’t able to return to rescue the others because the high winds and smoke made it too dangerous to fly. Only Bob and the occupants of the three other vehicles had been left behind.
Bob joined the end of the convoy. He wanted to get off the mountain, out of harm’s way. That involved driving through the edge of the fire. Slowly, they worked their way down, swerving around the glowing detritus in the road while trying to steer clear of burning branches at the shoulder. Embers were flying through the air around the convoy. He said it was a bone-chilling sight when at the steepest part of the road Bob looked out over the canyon and there was fire as far as he could see. Below him, and on either side of the road, the inferno burned everything in its path. It looked as if no structures remained standing. He could see only blackened trees silhouetted against the orange of the hissing, spitting, undulating fire following the road.
Everything was on fire or already burned. Then he saw one structure still standing: the Soda Canyon Store, a beacon at the bottom of the road on the corner at Silverado Trail.