QUAIL MUTTERINGS #24. Ten Years Later (November 8, 2013)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #24.  Ten Years Later (November 8, 2013)

               In October of 2003, our extended family lost five houses here in the canyon. The Cedar Fire claimed our cabin, my mom’s house, my grandmother’s cottage, my sister’s dome, and my first house. So far, the only one rebuilt was our old cabin from the 1920’s. Now, a decade later, I’ve just submitted plans to rebuild my grandmother’s (Bamoo’s) house.

I’m trying to be careful about how and what we bring back into the canyon. It’s important that it blend into the environment and not disturb any more nature than necessary. That, after all, is what our home really is. The beautiful canyon nestled in the backcountry of Ramona. This is what we came back to after the fire and decided that yes, it’s still worth it. I’m planning to construct a berm house, built into the south-facing hill, like Bamoo had before. The thermal mass from the concrete wall behind and partway down the sides, sitting on a slab, will help keep the small abode a more even temperature and have a greener effect.

On October 23rd I spent six hours down at the County submitting my plans, visiting the various counters attempting to gain their sign offs. My cell phone rang. It was KUSI Television asking me to come down the next morning for an interview on Good Morning San Diego to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the Cedar Fire and discuss my book about our experience with it.

“You’ll never believe where I am right now,” I said.

“Unbelievable!” he said. “Ten years later?”

The live segment aired on October 24th at about 8:10 AM. It was actually kind of fun. I got to discuss both books and, of course, they wanted to hear about our evacuation. In the end, after reminding the audience that the Cedar Fire was the largest fire on record in California’s history, he asked if there was anything I learned from the experience or what I do differently now. I laughed. I figured everyone expected to hear how I now clear the hell out of my property to avoid any future fire danger. But no. I simply told him that I try to take more time out to smell the flowers. “They’re always there, you know. We just have to remember to take a moment and breathe.”

During the past few months while readying the site to build the nine-hundred and sixty square foot dwelling I’ve taken time to remember Bamoo. I framed a small picture of her to place on top of a bookcase. She taught elementary school in Poway for thirty years and was a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary society for women educators. Bamoo and Papoo (my grandpa and her stay-at-home husband/inventor) bought one-hundred acres back in 1955. A few years later my parents bought forty-five acres from them. Then in 1992 my husband and I purchased an adjacent twenty acres to complete the whole back end of the canyon. Five generations of my family have inhabited this valley.

Bamoo’s old cottage was built in the 1920’s by an artist. The same guy who built our cabin. I love those old craftsman-style houses. They’re my favorite. She had a patio in back demarcated by high rock walls. An old ice box sat next to an outdoor fireplace and a cement ledge seat ran along the rear wall. I sometimes go over there and duck under the dead, fallen trees obscuring it and sit to contemplate the eternal verities, as my dad used to call it. It never fails to renew my spirits. I feel it’s important for me to keep connected to my family’s roots as well as to the wildlife and plants that surround us here.

Upon collecting the plans back from the County for corrections, a couple weeks later, I watched as the agent wrote four digits on the stamp on the front page. My jaw dropped. Those four numbers were Bamoo’s last four digits of her phone number! Maybe she is still here after all. It somehow makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. I can’t help but smile.

We spent the ten-year anniversary of the Cedar Fire having a quiet dinner with another couple whose house also burned. And yes, they have also rebuilt. Things have changed dramatically for all of us. It seems that our reference for the relative time of things is either BEFORE or AFTER the fire. It’s simply the system most of us have adopted. But let’s raise a glass and toast to a happy future; filled with compassion, community spirit, and an air of acceptance for life. May we all linger in the moment and smell the flowers because they are always around us.


Chi Varnado is the author of two books. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire; and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail, are both available from www.amazon.com. Chi directs The Ramona Dance Centre: www.ramonadancecentre.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.