The Things That Can’t Be Replaced

My son and I were staining our deck rails yesterday afternoon, commenting on the fact that it had reached 83 degrees on the top of our mountain—one of the hottest days we’ve ever experienced in my nearly 11 years up here.

That’s when we heard the sirens—three different ones by our count. My five-year-old is one of the smartest kids in the world (I’m sure of it), and he looked at me and said, “Wildfire, Mom.”

Weekend photo of the High Park Fire in northern Colorado

We both had tuned into the news earlier and knew of other fires burning in Colorado. The record heat and low humidity were not doing firefighters any favors. So we knew the conditions were bad all around us. But even though I could’ve really used a triple shot of vodka right then to calm my worry, I reassured my son that everything was fine, and we went back to painting.

Then our neighbor came over … said there actually was a fire, just a few miles down the mountain. The road was closed and volunteers were preparing to go door to door to evacuate folks, if things took a turn. We weren’t in immediate danger, but we should be ready to leave.

Now, we live in the middle of a national forest and near many backcountry recreation areas, where campers and tourists and off-roaders congregate, and where a campfire or cigarette butt could get out of hand at any time—fire ban or not. So we are generally prepared with important documents in one place, ready to grab if needed. So that was the easy part.

I asked my son to pack his 10 favorite toys—mostly just to keep him busy while I decided what else needed to go with us, if the need arose. I thought of all those people in northern Colorado who have lost their homes recently to the High Park Fire, the second largest in the state’s history (still burning and only 45 percent contained). More than 200 homes have been lost so far. I thought of all those folks in Texas last year who suffered when the flurry of wildfires hit in early September. I wondered if they’d had any warning … if they’d had the luxury of the time we had this afternoon to think clearly about what could and couldn’t be replaced. I hoped that they did.

We’d had another wildfire scare in 2002, before our son was born. We’d gotten the “prepare to evacuate” notice. We sprayed our roof down with water. I remember thinking back then that packing a few things wasn’t all that difficult. My husband and I were at a point in our lives when we didn’t have tons of “stuff.” We lived simply in our mountain log cabin. Other than a few family heirlooms and our wedding album, most of what we had could be easily replaced. Basically, I needed my laptop, with all of my current writing files; a pair of jeans and boots; a couple of t-shirts; and my dogs. That was it.

My boys reading on Christmas Eve ... and the kind of photo that it would hurt to lose.

This time, it was completely different. There were the photos and scrapbooks and videos, of course. But also the monster truck and fireman and school bus and tractor drawings. The watercolor paintings, and preschool and kindergarten crafts, and “I love you, Mom” notes. The few baby items I’d saved, like his first cowboy boots, his first Texas A&M t-shirt, the clothes we brought him home from the hospital in, his baby blanket, his first Miami Dolphins’ jersey (my husband’s a huge fan, bless his heart). A favorite rattle. All the portraits on the walls from the baby years to the toddler years to preschool and then kindergarten. There were notes and letters from my son’s birthparents. There was every pine cone and rock he has ever collected on a hike, that he gave to me for “safekeeping.” And my journals of his first years, and my first years of being a mom and trying to balance career and baby and life. His favorite books that we’ve read together a million times … the first ones he could read to us by himself.

The thought of losing any of these things made me ache so deeply that I can’t even begin to explain it. I suppose this is just one more way that being a parent changes everything. Damn kids. They really do worm their way into our very being, don’t they?

The day ended just fine, by the way. The fire was brought under control quickly (thank you, firefighters!!) and we were never asked to leave. But it is going to be a long summer, so I went ahead and packed up as much I could in a few boxes, just in case.

Hank is pretty much a celebrity in our house.

As for the Stinkbug, here’s what was in his box: one big red bouncy ball that cost 75 cents from Walmart, all of his Hank the Cowdog books, four monster trucks, five Hot Wheels cars, a glow-in-the-dark football, his new guitar, two die-cast jet planes, two stuffed animals, a box of colored pencils, a Slinky that no longer slinks, and his Johnny Cash and Jack Johnson CDs.

I love that kid.

And you know, I suppose that when it comes down to it, if all my husband and son and I really had left was each other, we’d still be living pretty high on the hog.

(Note to the Fire Gods … please don’t test this theory. Please? I really really like my comfy bed and my new coffeemaker and my collection of boots and that one really cool necklace I have made of recycled watch parts, and the Adirondack chair my dad built me and that one pair of jeans that fits just right after 100 washings and and and …)

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