I could tell you the story of the burn, but it seems so boring.
I could tell you how it was a lovely evening – calm, still, warm – and how we’d all played outside, the kids with their cars, the adults with cleaning up wind-blown branches and moving chicken fencing so the hens, for many of their last suppers, could eat crickets and grass and dig in new duff.
I could recall how we almost raked up the old straw that lay under the 4-wheeler, left over from the time in February when we’d tried to nurse an injured calf back to health, but then didn’t. I could confess how it was I who suggested a campfire because we had branches to burn and hotdogs in the fridge that would make an easy dinner.
I could tell you how Andy picked up some of that loose straw and stuck it under branches in the fire pit and how quickly it burst into flame. I could tell you how, even then, I was struck by how combustible that dry straw was.
I could paint a picture for you of how Lilac fed the fire old cardboard boxes we’d cleaned out of the barn and shed, and how she put them on the fire one by one, careful lest the flames get too high. I could explain how, once those were burned and gone, we moved on to old wood and dry branches and then let those burn down so we could roast our dogs. I could tell how the kids eventually lost interest and drifted inside, but how I stayed out, petting Big Kitty Boy, who’d crawled into my lap, and waiting for the fire to burn down.
I could explain how I wasn’t worried about the remaining coals because we’d already raked up all the dead leaves up from around the fire pit and put them in the garden, and because we’d had fires in this pit uncountable times before and never had problems, and because it was a calm evening, with no wind or gusts or breeze of which to speak. I could explain how, as I got up to go inside, I planned on coming out again, just to check on everything, but how, instead, I only went to the door and looked out the window, content to turn around when I saw no obvious flames.
I could tell you how, after topping off the kids’ stomachs, we began the usual nighttime routine, but then how, while I was in the middle of putting my four year old daughter’s nighttime diaper on, one of the kids ran in to say that his dad was saying the shed was on fire.
I could try to explain how quickly things went after that, how confusing everything got, and how debilitated I became by the stress of so much new, unwelcome information. I could tell you how we moved the cars and then shuttled the kids out the backdoor, and how they were in their underwear, without socks or shoes or shirts or pants because they were all about to get into bed. I could try to tell you the order in which things happened, even though I can’t remember exactly what happened when, only that I kept running in and out of the back door, trying to call 911 from a cordless phone while the power line was burning through, taking an odd assortment of jackets to the kids who were standing in the driveway with the neighbors (transfixed by the sight of the shed fully engulfed in flame), running back in to find my spare keys because I could not recall where I’d put my regular ones which I’d used just moments before.
I could try to describe how I went into the front room and used all my will power to calm my mind so I could find my spares, but how hard it was to do because the heat from the fire was cracking and popping the window closest to the fire, and the corner where so many of my most precious things were stored was getting hot, and how, for the first time, I realized that not only was the shed aflame and the barn in danger, but that the house might go as well.
Then I could try to explain how ridiculous I felt doing it, but how I couldn’t help myself from gathering a few things together, my mom’s silver, my wallet of SS cards and passports, my grandmother’s needle points, and a couple of framed pictures of my parents. I could describe how I thought of, but left behind, things like the photo albums, the computer, the money stash, my great-great-who knows how many times great-grandfather’s sword, my grandmother’s sewing T-square ruler, my grandmother’s leather suitcases that were filled with special things, and how I left these things because running around trying to gather them up felt silly and my adrenaline rush was running out, but also because I superstitiously like if I did gather them up I would be accepting the possibility that the house might burn, and I wasn’t able to do that.
I could inform you of how it was a Monday night and the entire Redlands Mesa Volunteer Fire Department was a twenty minute drive away in Hotchkiss, at their weekly meeting; how, because of this, instead of it taking them under five minutes to get here, it took them longer, and in that time the fire leapt from the shed to the tree to the barn and, finally, to the root cellar, but how, because the fire department did arrive and because Andy got a hose on the corner of the house and because we have a stucco exterior and were able to move the cars, we didn’t lose the house.
And then I could count my blessings because, even though we did lose a lot – everything we kept outside – we didn’t lose it all.
I could tell you all this, and so I have, but it’s a story both predictable and common, and is not as interesting to me as other things that I will tell you later.
The barn, root cellar, and shade tree.
The remains of the shed and the utility company coming to put up a new pole. DMEA was awesome – our power was back on before noon the next day.
The firewood pile – the biggest portion of which was stacked on the west side of the shed – closest to the house.
The barn up close. This was a beautiful log structure, built to last, and still strong and sturdy after who knows how many years. The chicken coop was in the left corner where the wall is still standing. We were able to open their outside door, but could not get inside the barn to shoo them out. Seven hens got out. I tried to call to the ones who stayed inside, but they just sat on their roosts until the ceiling collapsed on top of them. We lost a very gentle rooster and 11 hens.
Where it all began. The log round on the right still holds the hotdog roasting forks we used to cook dinner. You can also see the rake I used to remove all the surrounding leaves. The door in the right hand corner was stored quite a good distance away, inside the barn.
Our new, slimmed-down profile.
The corner of the house closest to the shed.
All that remains of a once beautiful old building.