And Now Oregon Is on Fire: The COVID Diaries

 

Dear Diary,

When I started my COVID Diaries, I thought it would be for a while. A season. An interesting few weeks, maybe? I thought our national response would be different. I thought, even if we didn’t eradicate it within our borders, we’d control it.

I did not think I’d be sitting here, almost exactly 6 months later, writing about wildfires sweeping the West, including the fire that’s about 3 miles from our own little house in Oregon while the pandemic rages on, as well.

And I don’t even know what to say about it, Diary. I’m typing in slow motion trying to wrestle words from a brain gone soft.

This is the third night we’ll head to bed with our Go Bags packed — one backpack allotted to each human with a change of clothes, medicines, the most basic toiletries, and “valuables” however we define them. There’s a ragged stuffed bear in one kid’s bag, the final book of the Wings of Fire series in another’s, and the kids’ passports and my grandmother’s ring shoved in mine. It’s a strange exercise, this parsing of things.  

Yesterday, we packed the cars, as well, with camping and survival gear. Water. Canned food. Sleeping bags. 

And last night I set alarms to wake up throughout the night and check the direction of the wind and the progress of the Chehalem Mountain fire from which many of our friends have already been evacuated.  

Last night, the fire reached a 5th alarm, and then a 6th, but by the 6th there was no one left to respond. All local, state, and national resources are being used at (and really beyond) capacity. Still, the firefighters here slowed the progress of the flames we could see licking the hillside behind our house. And today, more good news. The fire is 50% contained as of this writing. We were finally able to receive some desperately needed air support just before sunset, and so we’re hopeful. Alert and prepared to move at a moment’s notice, but hopeful.

Whole towns in Oregon have burned, though. We have friends whose homes and businesses are already lost. Entire cities are at Level 3 “GO NOW” evacuations. Roads are congested with people fleeing, and some have had to move to safety more than once, as previously “safe” locations are hit.

How much danger are we in, personally? Sometimes I think I’m just completely and fantastically overreacting. Nothing will really happen here, right? Other times, I look out my window at the mountain on fire and think of Paradise, California and feel the wind gusts and look at the apocalyptic sky and think overreaction is impossible. 

I’m weary, Diary, of being constantly alert. Just so, so tired. And if I’m terribly honest, it’s a weariness of months, not mere days. Because our world has been on a slow burn for a while now, topsy turvy and upside down. 

I feel guilty being exhausted, though. I’m not a firefighter up there battling the flames; I’m a spectator watching the lights flash. I’m not sick from COVID; I’m just keeping my family in masks. I’m not a teacher relearning everything I knew about how to connect with students; I’m a writer still writing, putting one word in front of another, trudging a familiar path. What right do I have to be tired?

Then I remember it’s not the Suffering Olympics, and I’m allowed my exhaustion without the need to measure its worth by another’s experience. I’m weary. The end. No justification required to admit I’d like to catch my breath.

So. That’s where I am, Diary. That’s it. My world is on fire, and I’m spent. 

I’m going to drink a glass of water to take the edge off my brittle, scratchy throat. I’m going to set my alarms for the night. I’m going to try to get some sleep. And I’m going to send all the love I have — every scrap — to the rest of our weary, parched world. 

With love, and waving in the glowing, ashy night,

 

 

 

HUGE THANKS to Todd Klingler of Todd Klingler Photography who allowed me to use the stunning images of our small Oregon town he’s captured over the last few days. The sky really is that yellow and red. It’s surreal. Like we’re walking around on Mars. 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
20 comments
  1. Hi neighbor … thank you for expressing … we at Dion Vineyards welcome you anytime. It all sucks this year. Be good to each other.
    – another Beth –

  2. Beth, my heart aches for you. My heart aches often now, but I am home in my safe house, trying to keep safe in my little world and most of the time I feel all I can do is pray. We all seem to have such little control, but that is the thing I can do. Praying for you, your family, your community and a country that is in a constant slow burn. Bless you.

  3. Beautifully written Beth as always. Helps us to be there with you. Blessings in the weirdest of weird and hard times.

  4. I always enjoy reading your posts, even when they contain troubling information. I’m sorry about your town, and I hope the fire is soon contained.

    P.S. These photos, while surreal, are also awesome.

  5. Dear Beth – Just a terrifying post. It’s been a horrendous year on many counts. I can’t imagine having my home threatened. My home is such bedrock safety to me.

    And everything else is such a mess, too with COVID19 and the coming election, etc.

    My personal world has also been rocked. I had to give up my car a last Ocotber because I am losing my sight. .

    Then my beloved husband broke his hip last December and after seven months of full-time care by me alone (due to COVID), he died on June 25, 2020. Our 72nd wedding anniversary would have been Saturday and I am very sad. We had to have his memorial service online. That actually turned out quite nicely, I think. the links are here, in case anyone is interested. Of course, no one could come to record from out of town, but various family members sent their parts and those of us here recorded at the church with safety measures in place. The violin piece at the end is our middle son in AZ and the music at the beginning and the piano parts are our grandsons, in MO and CO. Memorial service: https://youtu.be/hAHluoUN7OU

    Obituary: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vzVdx7bnf6fzCQGM4OVvvTelEXhfJxWN/view?usp=sharing

    Bulletin: https://files.constantcontact.com/1fe2f3ef001/692c301f-f670-4455-a187-7922953638de.pdf

    I feel very hard-hit, but I am coping and that’s all any of us can do. Beth, I REALLY hope you and your family stay OK. At least I have my home.

    Much love, Lois

    1. Dear Lois, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but my heart just aches for you. I clicked on the link and I will watch the Memorial – think of it, I hope, as someone sitting with you and bearing witness to the life you and your husband shared. The worst thing about someone we love dying, I think, is that feeling that no one remembers them or wants to talk about them. What a beautiful memorial you and your family put together.

      Much love, Casey

      1. PS – Lois, I bought your book. “This Path We Share”. We’ve been married 28 years and some of those have been so hard, and some so good, and some in-between. Thank you for putting to words what you and he shared.

  6. You’re a mom and a wife and a homeowner and a member of a larger nuclear family and a citizen of your town and a woman with a heart the size of her state and then some – so YES, you are very much allowed to be tired. weary. exhausted. scared. frustrated. anxious. Look in your kids’ eyes – find the reason, your grounding, the hope. Kim

  7. I’m so, so sorry this is happening to your family and community. This really is the year of all things suck. I’m sitting about two long days’ drive north of you with sunny blue skies and no imminent danger at all. My kid is begging for the latest Wings of Fire novel. I wish we (we – the internet we who are safe and not setting alarms to check wind speed and direction at night) could pick you all up and bring you to safety, while the we who protect us up here (our firefighters who are not battling any local blazes this year – we had rain all summer, so a rare forest-fire free season, could go down and protect your homes). It seems so simple – we are not that far away!, and yet so pie in the sky…so not simple because of borders and COVID. I’m sorry. Sending all kinds of positive thoughts for containment and control of the fire threatening your community.

  8. Ah yes, 2020, the year in which I feel mildly guilty for the fact that my skies are merely a weird yellowish grey, not full-on hellish red. It’s hard to overreact to anything, honestly, because it’s already been proven that the worst case scenario could actually happen. Hoping the weather shifts soon and helps the firefighters out.

  9. Dear Beth, I hardly know what to think let alone say. The photos and the news are terrifying. I’m starting to wonder whether my fundamentalist Christian upbringing’s teaching about a great tribulation followed by Armageddon is actually happening. Sort of wondering. Not REALLY wondering. I mean, not wondering most of the time. “Weird” definitely doesn’t capture it. Sending you and all those around you love, Sara

  10. I can’t even imagine. I’m sending out love and prayers for you and your loved ones! <3

  11. I can’t even imagine. Stay safe. Those pictures are powerful.

  12. Oh Beth, I’m so scared for you and your family and neighbors. Praying for you all.

    I know it’s not, but sometimes it feels the whole country is on fire. Not literally anyway. But, well, we had to put our dog to sleep yesterday, and I’m just still so raw. Reading this, I just want to cry with you and try to keep you all safe somehow. I care for you all and I know my fumbling words aren’t adequate to convey how I feel. All I can do is pray and hope for your safety. ❤️

  13. No words, just sending love and prayers for the safety of your family and your community. Please, take care.

  14. “It’s not the suffering Olympics.” Thank you for these words. Although I am not dealing with this horrific wildfire (stunning photos) or a lot of other tragedies others are, I am tired. Tired of non-masking wearing ignorance. Tired of this president and his lies. Tired of this virus. Beyond tired of racism and arguing with my fellow white people about it. I pray for empathy. For less ignorance. For understanding. For our burning world.

  15. Wow. Just wow. Three miles away? I can’t even imagine. Those photos are breathtaking – so beautiful and so horrible all at once. Take care, and I hope you are safe.

  16. Oh my even goodness. Stay safe

  17. Any words I have are inadequate for your situation. Stay safe. xo

  18. Boy do I feel you. I’m about a mile from an evacuation zone here in Washington and the smoke is thick at times, the wind has finally died down. 2020 is not done with us yet and all I can say lately is, I miss real life. But, we both have good jobs -although my husband was sent to eastern WA to work, it’s about 3.5 hours away. Was supposed to be until September but now they’ve extended him till next May. So I’m basically alone most of the time, working from home, isolated. Anyway. We have jobs, we’re healthy, no chance we’ll lose the house, etc etc, doing fine on paper. Just depressing. Stay strong, we have to stay strong and we’ll all get through this. Thanks for sharing your life, always appreciate the updates. Peace!

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