Today’s Member Monday piece was written by George Parker, and read to the Writers Forum at the June Readaround.
First Afternoon of Fire
That first afternoon we completed a patrol around our assigned section of the entire fire perimeter. The fire line was a literal line scratched onto the forest floor through the duff down to the mineral soil. ‘Duff’ is leaf litter, or any flammable organic debris on the forest floor. It’s the thick carpet of pine needles, sticks, and cones that accumulate on the forest floor. It’s critical to get this line down to dirt and rock…stuff that will not burn, or else the fire will just burn on through the line and keep burning. Everything outside of the fire line is green…trees, grass, brush. Most everything inside the line is black. ‘Most everything’ because not everything in a ‘burn area’ necessarily burns. Wisps of smoke rose from the ground and from charred trees everywhere inside the line. We attacked the more significant ones right away. We dug into the dirt with the grubbing edge of a Pulaski to expose and cool off the hot material. We broke up smoldering pieces of wood and duff to dissipate the heat and cool them down. Flames licked from the ground up into bushes that were not yet fully consumed. One of us would go over and root out the burning material and spread it out as well. One of us carrying a piss pump would wet down the flames and hot smoldering material.
We did not spend too much time right now on any particular area. Stretch’s main job for us that afternoon was to see the entire terrain we would be covering during daylight hours. We hiked our assigned section of the perimeter several times. Stretch pointed out to us things we would be addressing the next day, such as the few trees that needed to be felled back into the burn area. These trees needed to be dropped because if they caught fire and fell across the fire line, the fire would escape and take off again. The Hot Shot crew had tackled most of those trees, but there were still a few for us to fall.
The two Yosemite fire fighter ‘grunts’ had a hard time keeping up with us as we moved around the perimeter. Listening to Stretch talk to them, it soon was obvious that this was their first season as fire fighters. Whether they would be back for a second season was open for debate right now. We Corpies would be right behind Stretch as he legged his way up and down the steep grades. This was the part of firefighting that we already knew all about! Every so often one of his guys could be heard from way behind “Stretch! Wait up!” Stretch started getting irritated with them. “Geez! C’mon! These guys are keeping up with me just fine, and they’re not even fire fighters! Get with it!” And then he would not slow down.
By sundown we had made several trips back and forth across our perimeter. No open flames remained…at this time. Stretch had a plan for the next day. We went back to our campsite for dinner. Dinner on these fires was MREs. Army rations. MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat. Each meal comes in a big heavy-gauge plastic bag. Each bag contains a main course, a side dish, dessert, instant coffee, plastic utensils, toilet paper, and chewing gum. Each part was in its own little plastic pouch. The concept was simple. Tear the top off the pouch, add hot water, let it sit several minutes, and there you had it. An instant dinner. That first MRE went down pretty well. We had worked up quite an appetite.
We sat around talking for a while, and then everybody turned in for the night, two to a sleeping pit on the uphill side of a tree. As I crawled into my sleeping bag next to Glen, I took my boots off and set them carefully right next to my bag. I fell asleep to the sight of stars and the smell of smoke.
I was wading in a river of economic crisis, the kind that visits periodically in the form of a deluge. I was drowning when I received a phone call that I qualified for a government program that teaches you how to acquire salable skills to compete in the marketplace.
I met many…interesting…seasoned women there. Our bifocals, plastic teeth, and puffy ankles and conversation on World War Two and our intimate knowledge of the names of classic cars may have given us a competitive edge, but we all agreed, it was the inability to afford breast implants that put us at our most…disadvantage.
My first day in class, they asked us to write a resume citing our accomplishments and degrees. I wrote in mine that I had graduated from the dish pan to the bed pan, and my most recent job had been terminated by death. His.
They sent me to update my computer skills. I walked in to find the class in progress. I had to interrupt to ask how to turn it on.
They were so inspiring. I was told we had earning and leadership skills. I couldn’t think of any I might own. They insisted we couldn’t have lived this long without learning something. They asked us to name one. I raised my hand and said “Survival?”
I offered my experience of marching a small army through rain, sleet, and tantrums in house wars and mutiny among my recruits…with no fatalities. I thought I had leadership and was in command until I realized I was in charge of rations, latrine duty, and transportation. These are not salable skills.
I was placed in a job under the supervision of a hardened retailer. As I worked, I hummed along with The Beatles. She arched and flared and hissed “Never would those degenerates be found in my house.”
I quit humming.
©2017 Carolyn Faubel
After the wedding
They brought her the bowl.
Arms wrapped around its sleek heaviness,
They delivered it to her house,
Laid down a tea towel and
Rested it upon that, with
She stroked the glassy, curved interior,
Marveling at its weight,
They left the heirloom
While she dreamed of
And magnificent sponge cakes.
And when they asked,
(Because of course, they always ask)
How is the bowl?
The shattered shards of her words cut deep.
But, I LIVED, she whispered, remembering
Her children’s hands patting the masa and
I LIVED, she said, thinking about
Mixing meatloaf millions of times, saving money for
A tropical aquarium full of beautiful fish.
I LIVED! she thundered, knowing
The dull, scratched
Bowl was more beautiful than it had ever been
When it held offerings of pine cones and pyracantha
In the middle of the Thanksgiving table.
They crept back to their shuttered homes;
Dusty candles with cold white wicks,
Unopened decorative tea canisters, and
Sealed commemorative brandy bottles
Decorating their safe lives.
I came upon a truth today
It was quiet at first
But then it ran in to me straight away
It had been buried under layers
Of color coordinated clothing, healthy weight,
Frosted hair and a countenance that I could situate
It showed up in a game that we all could play
One that would push the truth up in such a way
That I could see, hear and feel
And value what it would reveal
It was different for me, or maybe it was the same
It gave me a mirror
And as I said it I could hear
The meaning that directed me for so many years
I was eager to share it with others
For I knew as I said it
It would pull out the weed
The one that had poisoned my heart from its true need
The need to be connected
To others in heart
To let down my guard
So I could be a part
A part of this world that we all do share
The one that has become somewhat dark in despair
It helped me decide to turn on my light
To share it with others, to make it more bright
To help build the message
It is not too late
I can join in and appreciate
Written in Redding, CA 9/16
Copyright ©2016 Marie A. Warner All Rights Reserved