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Sharon Randall column: Fears, past and future

By Sharon Randall

On June 15, I stood on our patio in Carmel Valley, California, looking east where once again, the sun had somehow managed to climb over the mountains. Then I said a prayer of thanks and felt a great sense of relief.

It was official. California was lifting most of the coronavirus restrictions that for more than a year had painfully impacted schools and businesses and life as we knew it. Hallelujah!

Three days later, when my phone lit up for an emergency alert, my husband and I looked east and saw what we had hoped never to see again: Smoke.

A wildfire had erupted near Big Sur, in a rugged, remote part of the Ventana Wilderness some 30 miles from our home.

Air tankers and helicopters were dropping retardants and water, while hundreds of firefighters were risking their lives, cutting firebreaks.

We weren’t in any immediate danger. But this was not our first dance with wildfire.

Last August, three fires erupted in Monterey County, all within three days. They burned for weeks, threatening lives and homes and wildlife, and filling the air with toxic smoke.

Two raged on either side of us and nearly merged before being stopped. A third grew to within a mile of our place, forcing us to evacuate, along with neighbors for miles around. Our home was spared, but dozens were lost.

We were not alone. The same nightmare kept replaying all summer with varying details in forests and towns throughout California, and in much of the West. We prayed for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and neighbors, stayed tuned to news and wore masks for months both for COVID and for smoke.

Hopes for a wet winter ended when the season’s rainfall was one of the driest on record. Still, we thought June would be too soon for a fire. We were wrong.

You know that feeling when life sends you spinning — here we go again? I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I could. But here’s one of the many things I keep trying to learn: We don’t need the tickets to take a hard ride until it’s time to get on board.

After seeing the smoke, my husband and I decided to repack the emergency bags we’d packed last summer and had used more than once. Mine was under the bed. I’d forgotten what was in it. Three changes of clothes. A pair of walking shoes. A week’s worth of meds and toiletries.

We washed the clothes, put them back in the bags, and updated a sack of important papers. Our laptop computers were backed up and most of our photos were on our phones.

Slow as we are, we could grab it all and be out the door in five minutes. Give or take. We were ready. As ready as we could be.

That was yesterday. Today we drove into town to meet my son and his family at the beach where I often took him when he was a little boy. We stayed for an hour, talking and laughing and watching the grandkids play in the surf with their dad.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

Then we went home to have lunch with my husband’s son, who drove from San Francisco to spend the afternoon with us.

It was lovely, as always, to be with him. When he headed back north, we waved a long goodbye. Then once again, we looked east at the smoke on the horizon.

An hour later, as I sat down to write a column, my mind filled with fires, past and future.

Suddenly I recalled something that made me smile. Sifting through a drawer, I pulled out a quote I had copied on a scrap of paper. It’s by Mother Teresa:

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

We never need to dwell on our fears, past or future. One is gone. The other may never come. Today is a great day to be alive. And tomorrow? Lord willing, we’ll begin again.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at www.sharonrandall.com.

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