We returned home after the fire a week and a half ago. Our apartment didn’t smell smoky inside, but the outside smelled like a smoker’s hotel room. It’s getting better now, but it’s still strong in the mornings and evenings. We cleaned out the fridge and freezer and began to resupply staples. We cleaned the house and did laundry. We tried to get used to transformed spaces all around us, the blackened hills, the charred remains of trees, the scorched telephone poles.

We went back to work. I stood in class with my students as we carried on. I was relieved to hear them laugh and see them take comfort in the normalcy of homework and tests and papers, however disrupted those activities continue to be. I was moved to see their joy at being back together with others who also felt the weight of this past month.

And we’ve had some hiccups. Last week, we got some much needed rain that also posed a terrible threat of mudslides and rock slides from the newly bare hills. Class was cancelled one day. And it’s rained for most of the last two days, causing problems as well. We still had class, but the roads felt treacherous. Many of my students didn’t feel safe driving. I didn’t either. We all feel a little less safe these days.

On my drive home today, I had to take an alternate route because Malibu Canyon was closed due to rocks falling. My new route took me further north, through a much more damaged area. I saw the remains of houses that had burned to the ground. I saw the singed remnant of a vineyard on a hillside. It was devastating. This evening, as I walked the dogs, I realized that we no longer hear coyotes crying from the now barren hills by our house.

So we do the math after this compound catastrophe; we tally up all that has been lost. Class time. Events. Friends. Homes. A sense of safety. Normalcy. Order. Peace. And what else? How do we quantify the scars we do not yet understand?

But even in the midst of it, I find myself also counting blessing–my home that didn’t burn, the resilience of my students, Christmas decorations and music, my dogs, Grace. And to my surprise, the tender green grass that has already begun springing up from the scorched earth all through the canyon has moved me almost to tears as I remember that the world always moves toward restoration and renewal. Even in ashes, life goes on, begins again, revives.


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