Black feet, black bears, and getting back to normal

Last week was a week I will never forget. A week so surreal, a week so not my normal.

My normal is as quiet as I want it to be, with time to do what I want, what I need, with all of that time punctuated with varying degrees of missing my grandsons.

Not last week, though. Last week my grandsons were at my house, and I was their primary caretaker. The house was blissfully loud—interspersed with occasional loud moments not so blissful, too, I must admit. I had little time to do what I needed for myself, but also no time to miss my grandsons, for they were by my side while their mom and dad attended a conference nearby. Time with Bubby and Mac was the very best part of my not-normal week.

My normal is relatively mild in terms of temperatures. Not so last week. Triple-digit heat, record heat, historically high heat literally never before felt in Colorado Springs marked the temperature gauge in unprecedented fashion. Day after day after day. It’s just heat, some might say. Stay in the house and turn on the air. It's no big deal. In a house—in my house—that has no air conditioning, though, it is a big deal. It’s hot. It’s hell. A hell I didn't want to deal with myself, much less impose upon my grandsons.

And then, well, then there was the Waldo Canyon Fire. The horrific part of the week. The heartbreaking part. The surreal part.

Tuesday evening rush hour, driving with my grandsonsSurreal in that on the west side of my city, hillsides, landmarks, homes were burning. People—families—were evacuated from their homes. Smoke and ash filled the sky, reaching as far as the city’s east side, my side.

Surreal in that every local television station went to 24/7 coverage of the disaster, the devastation. While my grandsons played nearby, I tried to watch. When they slept at night, Jim and I did watch, far into the night, especially on the most horrific day, on Tuesday.

Surreal in that I continually, obsessively checked Facebook, Twitter, email for news on friends and family, their safety and their homes. That I regularly received reports and texts from Megan and Preston as they tried—yet often failed—to enjoy their mountaintop conference and festivities while homes and Megan’s hometown burned within clear and heartbreaking view.

Surreal in that our health department warned residents to stay indoors, with windows shut and air-conditioning on, so as to not breathe in the ash and the soot. Having no air conditioning, we opted for taking the boys to various indoor play areas. We did our best each day to have a good time with them while the west side of our city burned. At night we wrestled with choosing between opening windows to let in cooler air to lower the hellish temps in the boys’ upstairs rooms or keeping the windows closed to avoid the soot and ash we were warned to keep out of our homes, our respiratory systems. Especially respiratory systems with itsy bitsy lungs the likes of Baby Mac’s…or even Bubby’s.

Wednesday afternoon, heading to an indoor play placeSurreal in that access to my mom, my sister, attractions we’d planned to visit with the boys was shut down, impassable for the entire week, as fire raged and firefighters needed to protect the highway, use the highway. That shelters, like refugee camps, were set up around the city for evacuees. That the state governor, the United States president visited to view my city’s disaster and devastation firsthand, to offer support.

We watched each day and each night—as often as we could while still attending to and enjoying our grandsons—as not only local news but national broadcasts revealed burned areas that looked like war zones, yet were neighborhoods I had visited, places friends lived. We and the rest of the city anxiously watched news conferences at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day for updates on the status of the fire and evacuees, the successes of the firefighters.

All this while I and every other resident not in the line of the fire worried about, prayed about, cried about those who were.

All this while my grandsons visited and the hellish hot temperatures continued.

Even after the initial shock and awe of the fire and its horrific trail and toll, strange things, things so very not normal, continued. Expected things like subconsciously searching the sky for new plumes of smoke and endlessly tossing about with others the figures related to homes burned, evacuees remaining, fire containment percentages.

Bubby's soot-covered feetUnexpected things, too. Such as realizing that going barefoot around my house—which my grandsons and I usually do—resulted in black soles thanks to the soot and the ash coating my home despite the miles between the fire and us. Black soles that required me to scrub my grandsons’ little piggies at bath time and scrub my own big piggies before bedtime to remove the grime. And the unexpected sound of packs of coyotes howling as they roamed my neighborhood, of having a black bear amble down my street. The coyotes and the bear, along with elk spotted in the center of town and countless other wild and displaced animals searched for a home that, like the 350 homes of local human residents, burned, is gone.

So strange. So sad.

This week I’m still sad about the displaced animals, the displaced people, the burned homes and trails and landmarks. Yet, this week, I feel a little closer to normal. The air and sky are clear of smoke, the ash and soot have been cleaned from my house. My grandsons have gone home, television coverage of the fires has been reduced to a crawl at the bottom of the screen. The pass to my mom has re-opened. The fire moves ever closer to containment.

I do still scan the sky for new smoke and for rain that would lower the still-hot temps and dampen the still-burning fire. And I make sure to watch the evening news and check #WaldoCanyonFire on Twitter throughout the day. I also continue to be on the lookout for lost and frightened animals in my neighborhood. Overall, though, it’s been relatively easy for me to get back to normal.

I’m fortunate, blessed, and thankful. For many others in my city, getting back to normal hasn’t been so easy. My heart, my thoughts, my prayers go out to them—to those who are still reeling, who must build new homes and new lives, who have yet to create a new normal.

Today's question:

The Waldo Canyon Fire evacuees had mere hours, sometimes less, to gather personal belongings from their homes. What would you grab first—other than people and pets—in the event of evacuation?