On a very early brisk November morning exactly two weeks shy of Thanksgiving, Mother Nature took no mercy as she blazed through our beautiful and beloved Paradise. At the time I write these words our fight is still yet to be over and even through the dark smoke, it’s crystal clear that the road ahead of us is a long and challenging one as we begin to pick up the pieces of what is left of our foothill town. People I’ve known my entire life took off on foot and ran for their lives as flames grew higher and higher taking what they pleased in their path. Parents held their babies close as they ran down the street or sang them a sweet, sweet song as they drove blind down a fiery two lane highway with no end in sight. Thousands prayed and called their loved ones believing this is how they would die and wanted to hear their voices one last time, to tell them they loved them. But before I go any further, allow me to describe to you the Paradise as we locals would know it…
Paradise is to be all that the name implies…these are the words you would read on our historic sign as you first drive into town. A town where generation after generation have built their family homes, their businesses, raised their children and contributed a great sum to a small community. Kindness, generosity, hard-working and humble are the characteristics of the people you’ll find here. Where many don’t have much but feel they have plenty and always willing to give the shirt off their back to someone who they feel needs it more than they do. Willing and eager to give a friendly helping hand and ask for nothing but a smile and a handshake in return. Pine trees may have outnumbered the people but we like it that way. Where wildlife are our friends and our waters are cherished. Where our sunsets beam shades of yellow, orange, pink and purple in such a way that they leave you breathless, even if you’ve witnessed them for most of your life. When people ask me where I’m from they often follow with, “Is it really a Paradise?” I reply with, “Yes, in its own way it is. It’s peaceful, quiet, and if you want to be left alone to relax you can.”
We are now recorded as the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history…that’s a lot for one small town to take on. Most people from other parts of the state and country never had a clue as to where Paradise was. Now, we are national news and just as quickly as The Camp Fire has put us on the map…it took us right off even quicker. Where I once saw my town beautifully filled with trees has now been replaced with images that look as if it’s a scene out of a Stranger Things episode with forensic teams coming in looking for human remains…
The Camp Fire is being compared to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and as I sit in my San Francisco apartment trying to write these words I find myself staring out my window…for how long? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m subconsciously taking in the thought of what it would look like to look out my bay window in 1906…and then I think of what it will look like to look out my window now in Paradise. It wasn’t until several days after my town was destroyed that I realized the last time that I was home in early October would be the last time I would see my hometown for how I will always remember it. If I had known what was to come just 30 days later I would have driven through every street soaking up each place that will only live as memories now. Every school I went to, every friends house that I grew up in, the grave site where dozens of 14 year olds buried the strongest girl they will ever know after leukemia decided to take her from her family, her friends, and her future…
However, if there’s one thing I know about Paradise, an unwritten rule we all carry within us…we are resilient. When life knocks us down, we get up, brush off the red dirt and come back even stronger. Resilience is what got thousands of people out that day through the hardest conditions they will ever be faced with. Resilience is what kept the brave men and women saving as many lives as they could while the odds worked against them. Fearing for their own families lives and their homes at the same time as being a saving grace to others. Resilience is what kept the few who stayed at their homes fighting off flames with just a bucket and a hose protecting everything that mattered to them. Resilience is what built this town in the first place and resilience will build it again. Just as soon as the flames are out and the smoke has lifted, you can be sure the people of this community will begin again building our beautiful Paradise. For the 88 and counting that didn’t make it out that day…may you rest peacefully in Paradise. For you shall never be forgotten.
“But if I could give you everything I would
All the forests and the flowers and the trees
But if love is all you need then we are good
For love is all I have to give
Won’t you tell me you’re the one for me”
The Mtn Song by Rayland Baxter
*These photos are pulled from the internet as I was not allowed into Paradise to take my own. All opinions remain my own.