It has become hard to keep track of the days.
One week ago ago today, I took a long, calm walk by Lake Tahoe. The fall breeze swept around my cozy fleece pullover. I packed up in the early evening, with a sigh, to head back to my home in Sonoma County.
Around 8 PM, I saw a flame fall from the sky near Petaluma on 101 North. "That's strange to have fireworks in October," I thought. Now I think I might have seen the beginning of the fires. I'm not quite sure, but it might have been a falling telephone pole.
I arrived to Healdsburg and a strong, warm, strange wind around 9 PM. This was no cool lakeside breeze. This was a highly unusual, 78 degree evening that caused my side gate to bang open and closed every few minutes, and a fitful night of sleep.
At 3 AM, I woke up with such a sore throat I thought I must be getting sick. In my bathroom, I searched for cough drops in the dark, then settled back underneath my covers.
On Monday morning, I had news from my mother via text that there were fires, and to look at the news. I tried to turn on my television, but internet and cable were down. That first day, most of my news came from standing in line waiting for a cappuccino in the morning. Over the following days, it would come from exchanging hundreds of text messages and calls with friends and from a website two friends helped to create.
On Tuesday morning, I packed my car with a bag of clothes as well as "valuables" and headed south to a friend's apartment in San Francisco, not because my house was in danger, but to try to clear my lungs of the smoke.
I've thought a lot about this over the last few days – what really is "valuable?"
Is it expensive dresses I've only worn once in two years that have monetary value? Is it books and artwork I've received from friends that have sentimental value? Journals from my childhood that have emotional value? My passport that has political value? Financial papers that have legal value? Trinkets from my travels? High heeled shoes? Photo albums? Maybe it is some of that. Maybe it is none of that. But most of all it means my safety. So as someone who lives alone with no family in the area, where do I feel most safe, and how do I get there?
Yesterday, a realization from the beginning of my junior year abroad surfaced. At the end of the day, there is just me. There is nobody else to tell me what to do until it is almost too late – police chiefs, firefighters, or other individuals of authority. My answers to questions both big and small have to come from within.
Since that realization five years ago, I often tell people I began my transformation into Katherine 2.0 – someone who is strong, independent, and curious. I am always searching within for those answers, and informing them via exploration outside and around of myself. In the past few days, these answers and decisions have led me into the arms and homes of both my oldest friends and new friendships that are just beginning, to San Francisco and Healdsburg and back again.
I have also learned several lessons in the past week. I have learned that news cycles are often hours or even days behind, often replaying "old" footage when the fires have not advanced, and leading to misinformation and false panic. I have learned that social media updates, including posts from the City of Healdsburg, and Instagram Stories from friends volunteering at shelters, have been my most immediate sources of immediate information. I have learned that I live in an incredibly resilient, supportive community that rallied overnight to donate meals, host evacuees, and begin the fundraising efforts that will aid the county's rebuilding efforts for years to come.
I have also felt the occasional pang of guilt or shame. Why am I not volunteering at a shelter? Housing evacuees? Doing more? At the same time, I know that the rebuilding will take YEARS and that the real work has only just begun. Today I feel ready to jump into what lies ahead in week two, after the most sound sleep I've had in days, feeling incredibly grateful for my beautiful home and my safety.