Shall I Stay Or Go?

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I’ve always loved falling asleep to the sound of rain.

But after last summer living in hills so parched they seem about to self‐combust, the rain is more relief than anything else. In dry months, a cigarette ash or spark from a windblown powerline could turn our wonderland into an inferno.

So I asked our fire marshal to help us make our house “fire safe.” This was not a happy conversation. Between our wood siding, collecting leaves and overhanging trees, it’s hard to know where to begin. Not to mention that 400‐acre park that hasn’t burned in a hundred years across the street. 100 feet of defensible space clear of anything flammable? No way.

The fire marshal says, “Your house is built to burn. I wouldn’t live here.”

I ask what we could do and he ticks off a list: Remove our gorgeous trumpet vine, re‐side our wood house with stucco, replace our decks with synthetic material. Cut back all the trees. It’s incredibly expensive.


He says to photograph everything we care about, remove important papers, put a “Go bag” by the door and increase our homeowner’s insurance. And even if we do all this, our real problem is escaping a fire.

Our road is barely wide enough for emergency vehicles. Imagine all the neighbors getting in their cars at once.  Can you outrun a wildfire? Not even on a good day, and certainly not towing my elderly dog.

After the fire marshal leaves, I stand on our deck among the redwoods and oaks I fell in love with when we moved here. I can hear juncos happily chirping. These glories of nature drew us here. People all over the world live with the risks of disaster. But how much is too much?

A few lines from a Wendell Berry poem provide momentary comfort:

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief…  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

With a Perspective, I’m Melinda Sacks.

Melinda Sacks is a writer and nature lover who lives in Emerald Hills, California.