Survival Is Not Enough

Reprinted from the Angeles Rising website.

August 29, 2009. A residence on Stonyvale Road succumbs to flames. Photo credit: Duncan Baird

It has been a year since the Station Fire roared through my neighborhood, destroying over three-quarters of the homes here at Vogel Flats, not to mention the homes and businesses lost elsewhere in the Angeles Forest. For those of us who call the forest our home, it has been a hard year, full of challenges and frustrations, emotional roller coasters and far, far too many long, dark nights of the soul.

This first year has been about survival, about taking care of basic needs like shelter and clothing, and all the tiny little details of day-to-day living that we too often take for granted. And we have survived, or rather, most of us have. I know of four former Angeles residents who have died since the fire. That is over and above the two firefighters who died in the fire itself.

The press tends to call us victims, but I reject that label. We are not victims. We are survivors. Those of us who remain have survived fire and flood. We have formed friendships and alliances. But most of all, we have come together as a community with a fierce resolve that is wondrous to behold.

No, we are not victims. We are survivors, and as a survivor I say to you that survival is not enough. As we move forward into this next year we must reach beyond survival to something greater. For some of us that means breaking ground on new construction to build a new home here in the mountains. For others it means rediscovering an internal balance that so many of us lost when our lives were overturned and thrown into a blender. And for others it means moving beyond the horror and trauma, healing the damage to soul and psyche that has clouded our minds and sapped our strength.

We can do this. I know it my heart and I feel it in my bones. We have survived a horrible and terrifying disaster, and nothing and no one can take that accomplishment away from us. And make no mistake, survival is an accomplishment.

But we deserve more. And we can achieve more. So as we move into the coming year I hope you will join me and say to the world, nay, to the universe itself, that survival alone is not enough.


Happy Independence Day!

July is always a thought provoking month for me. All the hoopla about Independence Day, then my birthday in a couple weeks… it gets the brain cells churning, asking questions and pondering the validity of the common, trite answers most folks give to basic questions about this time of year. It’s like they’re on autopilot, and they’ve never really asked themselves whether the answers they rattle off are based on actual fact.

Take Independence Day, for example. As Americans we celebrate the birth of our nation on July 4th, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We celebrate with parades and fireworks and bar-b-ques, decorating anything and everything in Red, White and Blue. But the Continental Congress voted for Independence on July 2nd, 1776. The Declaration was sent to the states for ratification two days later, with the first signature landing on that oh-so-famous parchment a month later, on August 2nd.   Continue reading Happy Independence Day!

Simple Words

Reposted from

A former neighbor posted something on a blog today that made my heart stop and my vision blur. They were simple words, yet reflecting a worst nightmare that many of us have been loathe to share, even though it haunts all our dreams.

The Ranch is gone. It wont [sic] be coming back.

And on Facebook…

rebuild will cost twice as much just to build 1 house. who has 1.7 million dollars that i can borrow?

I knew this day would come. I feared and dreaded it like I’ve dreaded few other things in my life. I feared that as time passed more friends and neighbors would realize the enormity of what it will take to rebuild, and that more and more would choose not to take up that burden. I don’t blame them. I know that I would not be equal to the task, myself.

Continue reading Simple Words

Going Home

As I write this it has been nearly six months that I have been displaced from my home, a refugee of sorts, unable to live peaceably in the forest that I love and unwilling to face the chaos of episodic evacuations each time a new rain cloud appeared overhead. My months in the wilds of Winnetka have been challenging in ways I never would have or could have anticipated. Too soon the novelty of pizza delivery, true broadband Internet and convenient shopping venues paled, leaving behind the reality of the street noise, sirens, domestic arguments, low-flying aircraft, artificial lights and loud parties that run way past midnight. The simple truth is that I am no longer a city girl. My soul cries out for the wilderness, for the quiet of my mountains and the quirky foothill communities that are my true home. I miss them more than words can say, and this weekend I realized how much I look forward to going home once again.

This past weekend was spent at the cabin, fixing and cleaning and planning my homecoming. It was hard work, and so much remains to be done, but the work is well spent. Already I feel a centeredness returning that I have missed during these months of exile. It isn’t quite enough to let me get to sleep as early as I’d like, but last night I slept better than I have in untold nights. So, I still need more hours of sleep, but at least the ones I got this weekend were restful.

These past months have been a time of soul searching, of questioning, of asking myself what it is that I value, and what I truly want in my life. In this time I have been unbelievably blessed. Friends have taken me and my dogs into their homes, my landlord has been generous and kind beyond anything I could have hoped for, and strangers have been supportive and encouraging, helping me to keep moving forward even through the depths of despair that have risen and threatened to overwhelm me at times.

Since my evacuation last October I considered selling my cabin, the house that my grandmother bought over 30 years ago, more times than I can count. I even had a financial planner tell me I had no choice but to sell if I want to avoid bankruptcy. But as I write this today, I don’t care. My cabin is my home, my geographic and spiritual center place, and I am not ready to give it up. Once I I return home I will be in a better place, physically, emotionally and financially. I will no longer have to cringe at the smell of chlorine in my water. I will be able to truly rest and unwind after long days at work. And my means will exceed my needs so I can repay those friends who have been there for me these past few years. Call me crazy, but that weight, the burden of debts monetary and emotional, has weighed heavily on me as much as the stresses of city life. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and if it is an oncoming train, at least I’ll die happy.

Moving day will arrive in a few weeks, then the real work of reconnecting with friends and neighbors will begin. I’m already making a list of supplies I need – bird seed, hummingbird food, and a decent gas grill for all the BBQs I plan on hosting. Stay tuned – all too soon you may have an invitation in your e-mail!


I’m in the LA Times again…

… this time for their “Money Makeover” column. Unfortunately, the reporter got several facts wrong.

  1. I have a Special Use Permit, not a lease. The 100-year lease thing is one piece of misinformation that just will not die.
  2. My permit fees are annual, not monthly.
  3. The Forest Service only requires me to vacate the cabin when there is a rain event, such as the one going on right now. While the danger of debris flows remains, the Forest service will continue to suspend our special use permits only for the duration of a storm that might trigger a debris flow. So once the rains pass there is no obstacle to me moving back into the canyon.
  4. And for my place, if it is damaged by flooding or debris, I know for a fact that I won’t be allowed to rebuild.

Other than that, the gist of the article is accurate. My finances are a mess, and short of winning the Lottery, I have no choice but to sell the cabin.

Enjoy… I think…


Saying Goodbye to 2009

As 2009 comes to an end, I look back at all the changes it brought to so many forest dwellers. The Station Fire began modestly enough, but, like all things that cause great change, it caught everyone by surprise. I know I will never forget the snow of ash, the red air swirling around me, or the fear and amazement I felt as I fled for my life, one eye on the road ahead and the other glued to the vision of the roaring inferno behind me as it destroyed nearly everything in its path.   Continue reading Saying Goodbye to 2009

December 2009 News and Updates

I know it’s been a while since I’ve sent out an update. I’ve been gradually settling into my new life, trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. Overall, things are progressing. It just seems very slow and difficult at times, more so than I ever expected.

Struan Measuring the Front DoorThe cabin in Big Tujunga Canyon is boarded up and sandbagged. Now all I can do is wait and pray. The BAER team’s plan to protect my cabin and others that survived the Station Fire was shot down by Forest Service bureaucracy. The recommendation had been to put k-rails, large concrete beams often used on freeways, in place to deflect the coming debris flows. Unfortunately, the local Forest Supervisor, who has a long history of anti-resident activities, ordered a re-evaluation of that part of the BAER plan. That re-evaluation shot down the BAER Team’s recommendation and made no alternative recommendations. Continue reading December 2009 News and Updates

Leaving Big Tujunga Canyon

USGS-OF09-1227_Page_01I don’t know how closely you follow the news, but earlier this week the USGS released their assessment of the debris flow dangers created by the Station Fire. The unfortunate reality is that my house, Nana’s cabin, is right, smack in the middle of one of the most dangerous parts of the burned areas. The problem with staying in the canyon isn’t the rain, per se. It’s the fact that ALL of the vegetation on the hills was VAPORIZED by the fire. Because there are no plants left – trees, chaparral, grasses –  there is nothing to hold the soil in place when the rains come. Even if we have light rains this winter, as little a 1/4″ of rain can trigger debris flows large enough to bury my home.

Continue reading Leaving Big Tujunga Canyon

Station Fire, One Month After

The following is a repost of my first official Editorial on the Angeles Rising website. While I have been very careful to only post news and updates to that site, I felt the need to express an opinion given the onset of investigations into actions taken leading up to the Tujunga Inferno. Take what you like and leave the rest…

Stonyvale Residence Engulfed in FlamesIt’s hard to believe that the Station Fire roared through Big Tujunga Canyon a month ago. In some ways it seems like five minutes ago. In other ways it seems like a lifetime.

In the month since the fire I have gotten to know my neighbors better than I had in thirty years of coming to the canyon, or in ten years of being a resident, myself. This month has taught me about the warmth of strangers, and frustration with  bureaucracies to a greater degree than I realized was possible. So many lessons, so many insights.

Continue reading Station Fire, One Month After

News and Views from Big T

Stringing Power Lines with a HelicopterEvery day I am reminded of the wonders of the Universe. Nothing can compare with the miracles I see around me every day, in the Herculean efforts of the work crews striving to restore power and clear debris, and in the resurgence of greenery in trees that a few short days ago looked dead and lifeless.

I am also reminded of why it is that I don’t watch soap operas. Nothing that writers can compose compares to the antics and ridiculousness that people put themselves and others through when given a chance to behave badly. It’s truly amazing.

Let’s cover power stuff first…   Continue reading News and Views from Big T

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