My parents and I stood in 101-degree heat and gazed up at flames raging through the familiar mountains—our mountains—that rise behind our house. Mandatory evacuations moved closer and closer to our neighborhood, streets three, two, one block away. My mom and I went for a nighttime drive and ended up three streets away watching the familiar mountains light up the sky. Two days of smokey waiting, tense and sleepless in a sweltering house, and we had just about sighed with relief and then we got it. The reverse-911 call: Gather your things and leave. We had prepared, packed a few things, and we frantically threw them in the car. We stood on our street and saw flames leaping up on our mountains, the mountains we hike in, walk to in mere minutes. We packed the really important things—house deeds, tax returns, insurance papers, etc. Baby pictures, family albums, paintings off the walls. And then I found myself staring into the bottom of an empty carry-on luggage bag. Now what? What do you bring? So I packed a hodge-podge back of my own irreplaceables, or what I imagined they might be if my life were stripped to its bare minimum.
The flames flickered above us, and a breeze picked up, a breeze created by the low pressure forming around the fire that was close enough to create a breeze we could feel. After our initial adrenaline slowed, we realized we still had time and lots of room in the car. And so we sat down and ate a hasty lunch and then packed a few more things, duffel bags of our clothes and boots and random inconsequentials that seemed important. And the adrenaline subdued even more and my parents went off to a swanky hotel, the blond doggie and I went to stay at a friends house, and we returned the next day in an anti-climatic, smokey homecoming and unpacked all the stuff we thought was important.