Saturday, August 22, 2015

Adventures of an August Writer

To say that nothing has gone as planned since I decided to leave my job and write full-time would be a great understatement.  I had put in my notice because I thought my poor health was due to burnout, a condition that happens often to chemical dependency counselors.  Little did I know when I told them it was to take care of my health how big a statement that was or how wrong I was when I said it was nothing life threatening.

Not long after giving my notice, I want to say within days, I got the diagnosis for colon cancer with a need for immediate surgery.  No worries I thought, time to write.  That turned out harder than I had anticipated due to the rigors of chemotherapy and the need to keep an income up with unexpected medical expenses.  Many of you know this part. 

Move forward.  I have just finished chemotherapy when I am told that my kidney appears to be blocked. No worries I am told, we will just unblock it.  That turned out to be impossible and the kidney further along in its dying process then thought due to chemotherapy and CT scans.  So the big day to have it removed was August 5th.

I have been working every other week as I can teaching around the country.  I have been doing book-shows such as the NW book festival in Portland and of course, writing all around that.  My plan, (Laughs cause that was the first sign of trouble... I made a plan.) my plan was to have the kidney out and spend the month writing and recuperating.  So we are on this path to healing when I somehow pull a stitch deep inside.  If you have never felt this, you do not want to.  My surgeon said basically that it is surgical level pain. IN other words, it would have felt like being cut on.  Which is what I felt, a knifing pain every time I moved any of my core.  Ever try to do anything and not use your core? 

So that put me in the hospital temporarily two nights in a row because lets face it, a little laced tylenol is not going to cut it.  On the mend from this. Yes we are on the downhill slope finally after a full year.  The kidney surgery was almost exactly a full year after the colon cancer was removed.  Woohoo - writing and travel here I come.  I will edit for beta's and write in alternation to get this book out as I am two months behind my own scheduled deadline.  See a problem here?  I made a plan.  *sighs*

It started well. I went to the doctor and everything was looking good now. I put a chapter out to my beta readers and while l were deeply involved in ripping it to shreds.  (Just kidding, they are a great group) The next day I completed a chapter I was very happy with and closed the computer with pride.  Now, what I don't mention is that a wild fire and started blowing our way early that day.  My mother was taking care of me and growing more and more concerned as smoke filled the air.  We were at level two evacuation which means be packed. She was very relieved when I shut my computer and began to help choose what to take and what to leave.  
Now mind you, I am not supposed to lift more than ten pounds. I am scared.. to twist and turn and pull another internal stitch. So this was a slow process.  However, finally we get the call. You have to go.  You have to leave your home and hope it will not burn.  This is most upsetting as my family does not want to leave. Russ lost everything to a fire when he was younger and doesn't want to face it again.  However, it looks like Armageddon.  The sky is this ghastly orange and grey.  There are spots of dark billowing black twisting and twirling up to stand out in stark contrast to the orange sky.  The sound of helocopters, the DC9/10? bringing pools of water in and smaller planes make it look like we are under attack - they are just dropping water instead of bombs.  

Now anticipating that I would need to drive, I did not take my laced Tylenol.  Wise, right.  I might have to drive.  So it is decided that I will drive my mom, the dogs and as much as I could fit in the vehicle to my mother and father's house:  Six hours away!  Woot, on the road, happy little camper driving along for about five miles.  The jostling of the car begins to elevate the pain in my eight inch surgical wound that feels like twelve inches of fire now.  So, next option, hotel that allows dogs.

Much to my surprise, a hotel in the next town called the Okanogan Inn takes us in at a reduced rate dogs and all.  I mention them by name because I am eternally grateful that they put us up, reduced the fee because we were fleeing the fire, and the room was nice with no carpet and good beds.  Still a very long night because the men in the family have stayed to guard the homestead. True wild west going on out here in Eastern, Washington.  

Morning comes and we stay in the hotel as long as we can.  About the time we have to check out, where I live goes back to level two.  Woot, I can go home.  My dad comes and gets my mom to make it easier for us. They offer to stay but everthing is calm so I send them on their merry way.  I plan (see a theme here yet?) to spend the evening with no one here. Just quiet.  Plus, my doctor said I could take a real bath in my garden tub.  See I have had a tube in my back for months trying to start my kidney which has meant sponge baths and very careful showers.  The prospect of sliding into a deep hot tub has me almost drooling with anticipation.  I will do this and then edit the next chapter. I will be back on plan.  (that word again)

I am laying in the hot bath, truly enjoying this moment of solitude and peace. No nurses at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 a.m., no family, no curious pets; just me soaking and reading a good book.  I suddenly notice the smell in the air has changed.  Everything smells smokey, but this is different.  Something has changed. Not to worried, I get up and get dressed. Time to start writing anyway.

I go out and the wind has picked up.  That must be it, I thought.  I mean it would make sense to have more smoke.  Turn on the radio to hear, that my area is level 3 - I can still here the radio announcer.  "Get Out Now!"  Now here is a bit of a problem.  The men in the family all went to work. I am alone remember?  And.. my son borrowed my car because his was down.  I am alone with an overloaded (from the night before) pickup truck with a bad suspension that is way off the ground, and the dogs, a turtle, a cat, a dragon (bearded but it still counts) two goats, and two horses.

I call Russ. Fortunately his boss sent him to help me.  As I was waiting, a policeman comes up the drive lights blaring.  "Get out now!" he says.  "The fire is coming."  He points at the far ridge and sure enough, fire is dancing at the top of it.  

Now that ridge is probably five miles off.  But I can tell you that in that moment it felt like it was the hill at the back of the property which is only 80 acres.  I am loading things into the truck as fast as I can, dragging them outside because I am certain we are losing everything.  The fire line is miles wide and marching straight for us.  No angle... no wind to fight against... it is steaming in with a good tailwind to give it a good leap and a jump.  I don't care how much it is hurting. This is it.  All the memories from raising four kids are about to go up in smoke. When at last we pulled out, we took this picture as a last memory of our home.

We made it to my son's and stayed with his family.  The dogs and we stayed in the house, the cat, the turtle and the dragon wer relegated to the vehicles.  Unfortunately, there had been no time to make arrangements for the goats and horses.  We opened up all the pastures in hopes that they can stay ahead or behind the fire.    It was a long night mourning and worrying over house and remaining animals.  At 5 a.m., I woke up to take the dogs out and checked my phone. The first picture on my facebook page is the local paper and the house burning down on the front looks just like ours.  However, the fence is just enough off that we couldn't tell if it was the angle or a different house.  

Russ could not take 'not knowing' and despite the danger and the evacuation order, he worked his way to the property.  His heart sank as he pulled into the driveway. He stopped and took a picture of the fence still on fire.  As he drove down the long drive, blackened ground is on all sides.  But... our house was still there when he turned the corner.  We are not sure how.  

The fire split as it came down the final hill then climbed the two ridges that our house sits between.  There is some minor evidence there may have been a good Samaritan or a few fire-fighters up here but nothing definitive.  So if it was fire fighters that somehow did something to make that fire split around the buildings (the only thing not burnt on 80 acres are four buildings that are spaced out over about eight out of eight of the acres) than know that we thank you from the bottom of our heart.   We could find no sign of a fire break or line but that doesn't mean something wasn't done.  If there were no men at our house last night. Then please know that my belief in a high power just went up a notch or two.  I can find no rational reason for the fire to have stopped in the places it stopped and yet burned the places that it burned.   

We are home now.  It will be an extended camping trip.  There is no lights, no water, no animals, few insects, no internet (already in withdrawal) , but we have all the amenities of camping and yet can sleep in our OWN beds.  Sounds okay to me.    

The plan (Yes, I know, I never learn) is to work on clean up during the morning hours.  I don't know how much help I will be given my wound and lifting restrictions.  IF nothing else, I can be cleaning all the soot and dust. Then I will go in when Russ goes to work to shower and then write at the library.  That will make me buckle down. Eight hour shifts of writing.   Maybe it will actually help us get the book out.   Talk to you soon ... if nothing else goes wrong!

 UPDATE:  We found out that this fire here was started by the Bellevue Fire Department in an attempt to back burn and save our house.  They thought the house as gone. They had stopped by to see how bad it was.  They took the following video right before they were forced to leave the house and hope for the best.   I wish to give my heart felt thanks to these men for saving our home, our horses and our peace of mind.