23 October 2007

Face the fire

Strain is telling on everyone. Eyes are wide, voices are high. Driving the couple of miles to the doctor yesterday, I had to avoid erratic motorists...why? How does swerving in and out of lanes, driving too fast or too slow mitigate smoke, ash and heavy wind? If they'd been avoiding all the downed tree limbs in the road, it would have been understandable, but they were plowing straight through them.

It took the spouse three hours to drive home from La Jolla last night as thousands of evacuees headed for the beaches and shelters.

I picked up the children in the car yesterday, something reserved for illness or inclement weather since we live only a few blocks from school (and secretly, we all enjoy the walk home from school together). Ash fell like snow, though it wasn't so terrible as the fallout from the Old Fire a few years ago. The kids were kept indoors, all outdoor activity suspended. I've kept the house sealed as well and resisted the temptation to go out and clean up debris. I can't stand all the dry pine straw that is covering my yard, a fire hazard in itself, especially with 5% humidity.

"What is it, Mom?" the son asked yesterday as we pulled into the garage. "What's in the ash that's so bad?"

Everything that's burned, I told him. Chunks of...stuff, trees, plants, buildings. Small, but big enough to irritate lung tissue. Heavy metals like arsenic and lead, and pesticides and asbestos. All the junk that gets aerosolized when it burns.

"I wish I hadn't asked," he groused.

The firefighters, bless them, held the Santiago fire to within a couple of miles of us, right at the spot where I used to jump off the bike trail on my ride home from work. In fire's fickle way, when the wind shifted yesterday, it headed west to go threaten another community and then went north into the canyons. To keep calm amongst family and friends, I'd told everyone Sunday night after the fire jumped the first toll road, "Don't worry, it would have to burn through a lot to get to us." And it did burn through a lot. Sunday night, watching the news, I saw it marching inexorably in our direction.

"My God," I breathed to the spouse, "it is moving so fast."

Today, there are tens of thousands of acres burned, hundreds of homes lost, thousands displaced. Possibly the most difficult part of all of this is knowing that we have faced similarly terrible conditions time and time again, most recently nearly exactly four years ago, and no one has taken the steps to prevent that from happening again. The same dead trees sit in the San Bernardino mountains, the same inadequate resources for fighting wildfires are all that are available today, people continue to live in areas that can't be defended. Water resources have long been stretched to the absolute limit, and as the state continues to allow more and more construction and more and more people to move in, it will only get worse.

But they'll think about it tomorrow. Why not go build another golf course in Palm Springs?

The wind has dropped, though a stiff breeze continues. The sky changed to orange an hour or so ago, and I went to the window to see a ferocious new plume of smoke, signalling that the fire has taken on new vigor.

It is so dry that it feels as though tiny pins are being stuck into my skin, especially mid-back where a new set of stitches graces my spine.

Go listen to some good music: "Face the Fire" from the album Phoenix by Dan Fogelberg.

On a lighter note:

I've gotten a lot of hits on, of all things, my mention of a marzipan spider. I have a terrible feeling that you are all looking for a recipe. This is how you make the cake:

Bake two standard 8-9" cake layers. The spouse believes that yellow cake is the only suitable cake for cake. Choose your own flavor.

Either make your own buttercream frosting (It takes 5 minutes! Just do it: beat together a 1 lb. box of powdered sugar, 1/4 c. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 stick of softened salted butter until well blended) or get a can of the premade vanilla stuff. Stir in red and yellow food coloring until you get the shade of orange you like. Frost the cake. Using a tube of black frosting for writing on cakes, make thin concentric circles around the entire cake. Take a narrow skewer or toothpick and gently pull it vertically through your circles at nicely spaced intervals. This will create a web-like effect.

To make the spider: marzipan is readily available at most grocery stores in the baking section, but I like Stramondo organic marzipan from Sicily. Break off a couple of small hunks, one slightly larger than the other. Mix up food coloring to get a nice black-brown color, and roll it into the marzipan. Form the smaller chunk into a head and the larger into a body. Place strategically onto your web, and trim licorice whips to make suitably spidery legs.

Note to those with food allergies: marzipan is made from almonds. Plan accordingly.

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