Friday, June 10, 2011


For the three or so years that this Blog has been posting - you've heard stories of my time spent at my cabin  in Dry Valley, Nutrioso - a slice of heaven in the eastern corner of Arizona.  It's been my retreat, my source for inspiration, the center of large family gatherings, Thanksgiving dinners, tamale making, wonderful hikes in the Aspen clad Escudilla Wilderness, blissful hours on the front deck overlooking the ponds watching Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, the cheeky Kingfisher, and  elk cavorting in the water by moonlight on a Summer evening. 

I was up there for Memorial Weekend and planned on staying longer - neighbors gathered for pulled pork sandwiches, brownies and fruit salad on the deck - the talk was of plans for improving the health of our ponds ; the giant muskrats that were eroding the recently installed dam, and what were the chances for a great wildflower season. We spoke of the pair of Bald eagles that regularly cruise the valley riding the thermals; of the brutal wind gusting as high as 60 MPH; of the newly greening grass ,and that the elk appeared to be calving earlier than usual.

On that Tuesday neighbors stopped by and as we stood outside chatting   we couldn't help but notice an ominous dark cloud coming in from the south - "The Wallow Fire", someone commented. "Are we safe?" was the question as it literally began to rain ashes on us. Consensus was that it was slow-moving and about 30 miles away.

By Wednesday the smoke was so bad that I decided to go back to Tucson - after a miserable bout of pneumonia in January I just did not want to breath in the junk in the air. I thought nothing of danger as I washed dishes, closed blinds and swept the kitchen floor.  It never crossed my mind to take with me "things" that I might miss were the fire to hit - everyone said it was not coming our way. The drive back to town was in high winds and thick, smokey air - really miserable, I thought to myself.

What a difference a day makes when nature is in charge. Thursday evening everyone in the valley was either phoned or a deputy came to houses - mandatory evacuation was in place.

Friends hustled to get their horses and five cattle out - making two trips to the Rodeo Grounds in Springerville , 17 miles down the road. They caught the barn cat, got the chickens into a dog carrier and finally left at 1 a.m.  Now the adjoining towns of  Springerville/Eager have been evacuated. The fire has destroyed large swathes of the Escudilla Wilderness. Fire has swept through the funky little town of Greer. The news this morning was finally good - relatively! Instead of zero containment we heard "5% containment."

As for my lovely valley - firefighters are heroes. They back-burned the meadows and created a ring of firebreaks. News is sketchy but what does dribble out is that no structures have been lost. And no lives.

In the 50 or so emails I receive daily from many groups, friends - rumor is hard to sift from fact. Emotions have grown raw with some fingers pointing at "tree-huggers"  whose anti-logging stance have "caused the fire to rage" - quite an astounding accusation.  By far the majority of emails are supportive, hopeful, poignant and so many end with "is there anything I can do for you?"

I've no idea when I'll be able to go into the valley and see for myself.  Meanwhile my heart breaks for those who have lost their homes, their dreams shattered; for the enormous loss of wildlife; for the loss of glorious old ponderosa. And my gratitude is to the authorities, local in particular and to the firefighters who are risking their lives.

My valley will never be the same in my lifetime - but the generosity of the community around me will compensate for loss of views.

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