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Archive for June, 2014

June 11, 2013

The Little House in the Big Woods

The Little House in the Big Woods

One year ago today was June 11, 2013. Like most days, I woke early and I found my way to the kitchen. The sun was rising in the east. I started a small pot of oatmeal on the stove and began to unload the dishwasher, pausing to admire the golden beams of sunlight which streamed through the Ponderosa pine trees of Black Forest.
We had out of town guests visiting and there was laundry to do and a busy day full of activities to plan. As I started to head into chores, I felt a pause in my spirit. Somehow, it seemed as though God was speaking to me to stop a moment and enjoy THIS sunrise.
I’m not always obedient to what I tend to think are prompts of the Holy Spirit but pausing to enjoy a sunrise, moonbeams, or gentle breezes are easy for me. These are all the things I loved most about living in a forest. Soft breezes brought pine smells to envelop me, whispering mysterious secrets along the way. In the evening trees interrupted the moonbeams on their way to shine on me, creating intriguing moon shadows which always brought to mind an old folk song-which the only part I could ever remember was ‘moon shadows’. “Da, da, da, da, moon shadows” I would sing to myself.
But sunrises in the forest are a masterpiece of creation. Morning has broken, like the first morning… (OK-I was born in the 60s and grew up with all these catchy tunes!)
Anyway, this particular morning was brand new, glorious, and filled with promise and hope. We had recently returned from a fun-filled vacation to Disney World with some of our children and our 3 year old granddaughter. Happy memories still brought smiles and giggles, however, this day-as most-was beckoning with all that needed to be accomplished. But, in happy obedience to the stirring within me, I paused to enjoy THIS sunrise. It seemed that I was almost inhaling the warmth and glow of the far off star that our solar system revolves around. Easily coming to mind were the words of Keats’ famous line, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”.
Standing at the kitchen sink, looking out the window, I gazed at the emerging sunrise which opened THIS day. Golden beams with silvery highlights made their way through the pine needles in streams. Usually the sunbeams seem either gold or white, but this one was spectacular with the combination and then came the pinks! I had never noticed pink hues in morning sunbeams before and felt that I had truly witnessed something beautiful and unique. It reminded me of the beautiful rose alpine glow that we often see on the mountains but this was more of a rose hue permeating the air filtering everything with an invisible lens of peacefulness.
Turning the burner to the stove off, and leaving the oatmeal to sit in the pot, I enjoyed every moment of that beautiful sunrise. What a gift! It felt like an honor to be standing there at the window watching this majestic yet serene scene unfold around me. ‘How I love living in the forest!’, I thought to myself. ‘There is no place I’d rather live.’
As the dogs began to stir, I opened the door to let the miniature Australian Shepherd, Tia, outside to eat her breakfast, and walked contemplatively over to the old fashioned hand pump to fill the water bowls. As I walked the 25 feet or so to the spigot, I noticed that the grass was very dry. Not the gray-green color-dry of Colorado grasses when they need to be refreshed by rain or sprinklers, but a yellowed curled and crunchy dry that was so intense it seemed that the grass beneath my feet crunched and disintegrated into nothingness beneath my Mickey Mouse flip-flops.
It actually occurred to me on that short walk to get water for the dogs, that the only time I ever remembered it being this dry in the forest over the 27 years we had lived in the little log-sided cabin on Brentwood Drive, was the summer before-when the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire consumed 340 homes on the west-side of Colorado Springs.
We have friends who lost their home in that fire in 2012, so we were keenly aware of fire danger. After all, we did live in a forest, in a semi-arid climate. It was a very dry hot day. I wondered if my husband had packed his computer backups in the trunk of his car as he was in the habit of doing when the fire danger was particularly elevated.
After filling up the dogs water dishes, I headed back into the house to continue planning for the day. Laundry was at the top of the mental list-not because of any special need but just because it was one of those chores which never seemed to end. Folding the load in the dryer and starting the fresh load in the washer early would keep the house from getting too hot in the middle of the day. As I made my way through the rooms of our home accomplishing the little chores that caught my attention, I received a phone call from a dear friend. She had been admitted to the hospital and the doctors were running a lot of tests but they thought she may have had a stroke, could I please pray? Of course I could pray. We had prayed for each other many times over the past 30 years. Sometimes in person but many times over the phone, just like this day.
After hanging up the phone I began to think about visiting my friend in the hospital. She hadn’t sounded over worried, maybe a little out of it but she had been able to make the call. She might appreciate me visiting and I would certainly like to see her for myself, so I called my daughter who lives in town and asked if there was any way she could make it out to the forest to babysit while I made a quick run to the hospital. She said she could come as soon as she got off work and would be out at our place by 1pm. No problem she assured me, she was planning to come out to see the relatives anyway.

Last family gathering at Whispering Pines

Last family gathering at Whispering Pines

Arriving just before 1pm the first thing Diana asked me was, “Is there a fire somewhere? I didn’t see any smoke on the way out, but I can smell smoke.” Diana has keen senses so I told her that although I hadn’t heard of a fire, and couldn’t check on the computer since it was in process of receiving some updates. I assured her that I would look as soon as possible once I drove out of the trees and would let her know if I saw anything.
Gathering up keys, purse and phone, I headed out the door hoping that a quick trip to the hospital would reassure me of my friend’s condition. Heading south on Black Forest Road, just as I turned west on to Woodmen Road, I remembered to look north to the forest in search of evidence of any fire.
And there it was. It was just a thin stream of smoke which looked as though it might be a garbage burn, rising up from the west side of the forest. Not looking very menacing but knowing the conditions were ripe for a forest fire it was a bit unsettling.
Calling Diana on the cell phone, I told her that she was right. There did appear to be a small fire which looked to me to be near HWY 83 and Shoup-about 5 miles west of our home. I told her I would keep an eye on it and let her know if it looked like it was growing, but that she should keep a home phone hand set nearby in case there was a reverse 911 call to evacuate and reminded her of all that we had planned if we ever actually needed to evacuate. “Just like we rehearsed last summer,” I said to her.
In the 5 or so minutes it took me to arrive at the King Soopers grocery near Woodmen and Rangewood I couldn’t really see any discernible change in the size of the smoke pillar rising above the trees and dissipating into the sky, so I continued into the store and purchased flowers to take to my friend. Exiting the building in short order, not particularly anxious about the fire-but realizing that there was still plenty that needed to be accomplished that day-I climbed in the car. As I pulled out from around the building I looked toward the north again and was amazed to see that in the less than 10 minutes I had been in the store, the smoke from the fire had grown dramatically from the thin lazy look of an overgrown campfire to a real menacing inferno.
Calling Diana again, I informed her that the fire was growing fast and to have the children prepare to evacuate. I reminded her to collect the important papers folder from the filing cabinet in the basement with everyone’s passports, social security numbers, and birth certificates.
My in-laws lived next door and the out-of-town relatives were visiting between the two houses so I told her to let everyone know that I thought it was a good idea to prepare to evacuate.
Sitting at the intersection at Woodmen and Rangewood I wondered if I should head back to the forest myself. Torn between taking the flowers to my friend and heading back to the forest, when the light turned green I made the split second decision to head toward the hospital rather than home. Diana was 25 years old, I rationalized to myself. We’ve rehearsed this scenario and she knows what to do.

But in the 10 minutes it took to arrive at the hospital from the grocery store I had already begun receiving phone calls from frantic friends. “Did I know there was a fire in the forest?” they all asked. “Did we need a place to evacuate to?”
Rushing into the hospital I was a bit relieved to find my friend sleeping peacefully. I left her flowers on the bedside tray and returned to the car.

View from the corner of Burgess Road and Black Forest Road intersection on 6/11/13 at about 2:30pm

View from the corner of Burgess Road and Black Forest Road intersection on 6/11/13 at about 2:30pm

As I headed north on Black Forest Road, I was able to snap a photo (at the stop light where Black Forest Road intersects with Burgess Road) of the smoke from the fire as it headed east-toward Brentwood Drive.

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