I was on my way home from the vet’s office last Tuesday when I saw a huge plume of smoke over the northern area of Colorado Springs, almost like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear strike. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from at first because news stations hadn’t picked up on it yet, but when I called my Dad and heard him say that there was a fire at Shoup & 83, I began to panic. My family and I live in the heart of the forest, a mile or so from that location – and it’s nothing but dry brush and pine trees straight to our house and beyond. As I turned onto forest roads, traffic slowed to 15mph as hundreds of cars tried to get home in time to save pets and possessions. I was one of the last cars that made it through before they shut down the roads. I could see flames reaching their scrawny fingers towards the sky as I turned down a road near our home. My mother and father were shut out, but my dad, rule-breaker that he is, did 90 down the tiny roads and found a back way into our area. I got home minutes before he did, breathing in the smokey air as I rushed my other dog into the car before grabbing my old journals, jewelry box, a change of clothes, and a toothbrush.
I wasn’t sure how serious the fire was as I hastily sped free of the forest but with a strong wind galloping through our state and the sun beating down on parched land, I knew that this could be verybad. My family, dogs, and boyfriend sat outside a Starbucks for hours anxiously checking the firefighter’s updates on a local news site. When they reported the fire had jumped Black Forest Road at Gun Club and Elementary, aside from a persistent hope, I knew our home was gone. Again.
Six years ago, my family and I lost that same home to a fire that had started in our garage. That fire had been put out quickly, though it was still six months before we could move back in due to structure damage. In that blaze, the firefighters had saved the majority of our home, leaving us with smokey, but in tact, possessions. As we watched the Black Forest Fire take 511 homes and 15,000 acres in the next ten days we knew that, this time, the home we’d known for eleven years was nothing more than ash and rubble.
The people who surround us have been so incredibly generous and giving. I could write a whole post on the kind things that have been done for us in the past week and a half. As all of this has gone on, people have almost invariably said one of two things – “At least you guys are safe,” and “It’s just stuff. It can be replaced.” That second phrase seems true…but just hasn’t sat right with me.
In reality, the fire took many more invisible things than tangible ones. It took safety, stability, rest, routine, memories, comfort, and history. A life is made up of these things much more than it is made by the “stuff.” In the past few days, I realized that my family and I are really homebodies. As much as we are involved in things and don’t spend whole days in a row at home, its where we all recharge. Its where we find safety, where we can let down and just be. It is something to rely on; that the coffee pot will be sitting on the counter every morning at 6:30 a.m. That the three leather ottoman’s will be sitting in front of our couches as we sit down to watch Parks & Recreation in the evening. That my mother’s beautiful watercolor paintings would be scattered about her art corner. That when it has been a hell of a day, we could drive home and find solace in the big, beautiful forest and our two-story wooden shelter. Though we lost our house, made of four walls and rooms filled with “stuff,” we also lost our home, which is much, much more than that.
We grieve the loss of home. The house can be rebuilt. Clothes can be re-bought. Rooms can be redesigned. And a home can be remade, whether that is in a hotel room, a rental, or a new build. That safety and solace can, and will be, discovered again. All the “beating hearts” made it out alive, which I will be eternally grateful for; those couldn’t ever be replaced. But for now, we miss the intangible things of our life, that will be rebuilt, but for now lie scattered about through the ashes of the blaze.