Never see it coming

There’s a pretty big wildfire burning in a state park in the mountains kind of near where I live.


I took that on Monday (two days ago) when I was driving. 

This was taken a few minutes later from down the road:


Now the mountains are invisible in all the haze.  I don’t smell smoke outside, but when I walked into the house tonight it smelled like a campfire in my living room.  I think that’s so odd.  The fire is burning in a state park, 11,000 acres so far and only 20% contained.  They think it may burn 50,000+ acres. 

The whole sky is hazy and thick, but it doesn’t really look like smoke now.  It looks like awful smog.  When the sun goes down, though, it’s gorgeous.  You know those shimmery silver heat mirages you see in the road?  They are pink.  And orange.  The light is a golden, rosy, tangerine color, and even the inside of my car was lit up and golden.  I took this tonight while at a stoplight as I was driving over to my mom’s house.


Just after I took that, the light turned green.  I sort of paid attention to the road with one eye and got my camera (the little bitty one) zipped back into its case.  I probably took an extra two seconds or so to get moving.  I turned left.  I drove a quarter mile or so, and then slowed to make the right-hand turn onto my mom’s street.  A car was stopped in the oncoming lane closest to me, waiting for me to turn so they could turn after me.  Only, instead of turning (probably on to their own street, going home after work for supper) they got smashed into by a truck.  I kept going.  I could see that someone else was stopping.  I had to get back to the kids’ school which I’d just left for a few minutes so I could take some papers to my mom’s.  I was late, sneaking away from the PTA meeting between the teacher meetings I had for Back to School Night. 

I don’t think I should have stopped.  I’m not trained in first aid enough to help.  Someone else stopped.  I felt bad, though.  I felt like if they just would have been able to turn in front of me, they’d be home already.  Who knows. 

Early this morning when I drove to work, the sky was different looking from all the smoke and haze, even though I was traveling away from the direction of the fire.  I drove past a hillside pasture, past the cows and live oaks.  There were a bunch of pigeons and crows flapping all around above the field, making a scene.  Up on a tall streetlamp sat a hawk, perfectly still.  Just waiting for her opportunity.  Or maybe trying to figure out the weird looking sky. 

I listen to podcasts of This American Life while I drive.  I *love* that I get to do this.  I’ve had dozens of episodes on my ipod for forever, with never time to hear them.  Last night I finished reading a book by Joan Didion called The Year of Magical Thinking (stunning. beautiful. sad. open. raw. amazing. read it.).  The episode I listened to as I drove past the cows and the hawk had a part from a man who wrote about his childhood growing up here, in Silicon Valley.  His family came here when the valley was known as Valley of the Heart’s Delight, and there were orchards everywhere.  He remembered that the land cleared for the subdivision they moved into had uprooted fruit trees around the perimeter when he came to see with his parents the plot where their house would go.  The trees still had blossoms on them.  Henry Coe was one of the agricultural heroes of this area, and the state park now burning in the mountains is, in fact, named after him.  It was perhaps started by someone burning trash.                                                      

I used to play in an orchard on my way home from school.  We made a game of avoiding the poor rancher who lived there, surrounded by tract houses.  Now it doesn’t exist: where it was is literally gone, the earth there dug down many, many feet to make a better path for highway 85, one of the roads I drive on all the time.  The road I was driving over in that photo above.  More than once, I’ve driven near where that orchard was, imaging the ghosts of the trees floating over the highway.

Anyway, the author talked about essays that Joan Didion had written about all these aerospace families moving to California.  I’d really just finished the book — it was strange with all the episodes I had to chose from, the way it all played out timing wise. 

Tonight’s drive home I listened to an episode that dealt with sperm donors, adoption, orphans.  One of the segments had music playing in the background that I recognized as being something I really loved but hadn’t heard in a while.  I knew it was one of John’s cds but couldn’t remember the name of the band.  I decided to ask him when I got home so that I could listen to it.  (In fact, I am right now, on repeat).  I played the part of the episode for him, demanding "WHO IS THIS?"  He wasn’t sure.  I remembered enough about what album I thought it was from to help him find it (among his 4,000 cds — that’s something) and sure enough, there was the song. 

Never See it Coming by OP8.

One other thing.  All day I was craving soup.  I went to Whole Foods for lunch (because I forgot to bring one with me) and ended up with a huge container chicken soup with rice, even though I really think my meat eating days are numbered again.  Maybe that’s why I ate it all.  Anyway, tonight in bed Sophie says, Can I tell you a poem? 

Sure I said. 

She said

In August I will be so hot
I will become a cooking pot
Cooking soup, of course, why not
Cooking once
Cooking twice
Cooking chicken soup with rice

9 thoughts on “Never see it coming

  1. Marsha

    Sophie must have gotten some of your DNA. Did she know you had chicken soup with rice for lunch? Have you ever woken up from sleeping in the middle of the night to tend to one of your kids, only to discover that you were having the same nightmare? That has happened to me a couple of times, I never know if it was just my imagination because I am only half awake.

  2. NotCalmDotCom'sMom

    Jen! I heard that episode of This American Life on Saturday as I was driving to Los Gatos – right where Union dead ends into Blossom Hill. You know, the place where there used to be an orchard and now there are mega houses? Remember the wild mustard that used to bloom there under the trees? I can remember seeing the mustard and then the distant hills topped by a achingly blue sky – once there was a dusting of snow on the hills. Such colors and contrasts – mustard, hills, snow, blue. I really liked the trees better.

  3. Ashley

    I read The Year of Magical Thinking when I worked at the law firm, reading it while I walked to and from court, crying the entire way.

    That book is amazing.


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