Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Original Adventure Pro Lightning Strike Article

I've always been curious to know how readers would respond to my raw articles, the original version before the editor gets a hold of them. Like the old Chinese Proverb of Good luck, Bad luck, who knows? I think having a news paper editor is a mixed bag. If you read the article in Adventure Pro, I'd be curious to know if you can see what they changed and what you think about those changes. With that in mind, here's the original article that was published recently in Adventure Pro Magazine (Pg. 35) https://issuu.com/durangoherald/docs/adventureprospring2019is

Title ideas: How Not to Get Lit UP, Flash Facts and the People Who Lived Them, Electrifying Tales, Shock Therapies

Dan McClure was coaching his son’s little league baseball team when the first thunderclap slowly rolled across the valley, originating from almost 10 miles away. Despite the actual clouds being far in the distance, Dan followed protocol to head for safety at the first hint of thunderstorms. He sent the kids and their parents to the safety of their vehicles parked behind the nearby dug-out. Then, Dan headed to his car, parked on the far other side of the field, on Bayfield’s Mill Street.

Dan, who is the owner of Bayfield’s Lightning Bolt Chiropractic, was moving pretty fast when, twenty feet from his car, lightning crackled through the sky and struck a nearby telephone pole. The bolt went down into the ground and traveled through the earth another fifteen feet, where it surged up, entering Dan’s left hand. In less than a second, the bolt shot through Dan’s left arm and exited through his right foot, leaving the lingering sensation of a burning bbq briquette in the bottom of his foot. Twenty years later he still has that burning sensation. It never goes away. (Picture of Dan last week in the spot where he was struck pointing at the lightning pole).
Photo by Donna Stewart

Aside from the burning sensation in his foot and feeling like he’d been cold-cocked by Thor’s hammer, at first he thought he was more or less alright. He went to work the next day happily cracking grateful patients back into shape. But the day after that? He couldn’t even get out of bed. An MRI revealed that he’d “cooked” his lower vertebrae. So began a long journey of recovery that he reflects on with gratitude. He credits the experience not only with impressing upon him the preciousness of life, but with a heightened intuition that has greatly enhanced his abilities as a chiropractor (hence the business name Lightning Bolt Chiropractic). (Picture of Dan with Dog, Thunder)
Photo by Donna Stewart
Dan was lucky on several fronts. Most obviously, a lightning strike can kill you and Dan survived. But lesser known is that 90 percent of people struck by lightning do survive.

But that doesn’t make them alright. Generating more heat than the surface of the sun in less than a second causes a shock wave we generally experience as thunder, but anyone standing within 30 feet of the actual strike could experience the equivalent blast of a 5 kg TNT bomb that can literally blow your socks off. The sudden intense rise in temperature can vaporize your sweat instantly, resulting in steam that can blow off your shoes, your socks and everything else.

Closer proximity or an actual strike can cause spinal cord injury (like Dan), severe neurological problems, burned retina, or third degree burns caused by the immediate and intense heating of any metal on your body.
Photo by Jonathan Bowers 
The blast can scramble the body’s signals, stopping the function of the heart, lungs, or any combination of the functioning of your organic matter. This might be a good time to mention that a person struck by lightning will not carry an electrical charge after the hit, so you can, should, and please do, perform CPR immediately if someone near you is struck by lightning and lies unconscious and not breathing. That is, if you know how to perform CPR. Not all strikes are equal, however.
Mother of 3, Kristi Murphy was standing on some rocks with four friends beside the Slate River in Gunnison, Colorado, when lightning hit the other bank. Murphy thinks she was knocked to the ground but truly doesn't remember.   "I felt a tingling sensation in my body just before lightning struck the opposite bank."   Four of the five people complained of symptoms like tingling sensations, nausea, and concussion symptoms like headaches that lasted for a few days after. 
Murphy said that she not only had headaches, but a peculiar “buzzing” sensation in half of her body, “The tingling feeling stayed on one side of my face and body for the next two days.”

Since later symptoms seemed relatively minor, no one in Murphy’s group sought medical attention, though they all wondered if they should. Most people don’t know whether to head for the ER after being struck, especially if their symptoms at first seem mild. But experts highly recommend getting checked out. Lightning strikes can cause significant damage to the brain, spine and other internal organs that might not be immediately apparent. Murphy was one of the lucky ones and her symptoms cleared up.
(Pic of Main Trail sign for Horse Gulch)

Photo by Donna Stewart...yes, that's a dog butt.

But not everybody makes out like Kristi Murphy and the good Dr. Dan. Our beloved Stacy’s Loop trail in the Horse Gulch Trail System is a living memorial to mountain biker, Stacy Thomas, a young woman who’d attended Fort Lewis in 1997. It was a late August afternoon and she was mountain biking with two friends on Telegraph Trail. The three were riding about 15 feet apart, with Stacy in the middle, when she was struck by a lightning bolt. They’d started out under blue skies, but Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton, who was among the first on the scene that day, said that, “it was a typical broken day, like any other summer day in Durango, meaning there were scattered thunder showers.” (Pic of Trail map highlighting Stacy’s Loop and Telegraph Trail where she was struck)

Knowlton remembers, “We recognized immediately that Stacy was critical and did everything we could to revive her.” Knowlton called in a helicopter for immediate transport, but to no avail. Stacy was gone. Today, a host of bikers, hikers, joggers and even horses enjoy the loop daily. (Pic array of Stacy’s living memorial with bikers, horses, jogger with dog and Spring Lupine)
Horses grazing along Stacy's Trail, photo by Donna Stewart
As sweet as that is and as much as we all love Stacy’s loop, you’re probably wondering how to keep that story from becoming any part of your own.

Well that gets complicated. Here’s the thing, according to Knowlton, “Lightning is absolutely impossible to predict. You can stay indoors all your life, but even that is no guarantee you won’t be struck.”

It’s pretty rare, but there are plenty of stories about people being struck by lightning that came in through windows, electrical outlets or even plumbing. Inside a building or car is your best bet, but who wants to live trembling behind a curtain?

Ready to live life anyway? Here are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure. If you’re inside, stay away from windows, electrical outlets, tubs, faucets and other plumbing during a storm. Check the weather before you head to the wild. Generally, in Durango, the earlier the better, especially during the June/July monsoon season. If you get caught “out there” stay away from water, wire fencing (or wire of any kind), and exposed high points. Do not shelter under trees, boulders or cliffs, while at the same time, don’t be the tallest thing out there. If you’re in a group, spread out so if someone gets struck someone else can perform CPR and/or run for help. If you can safely keep moving out of harm’s way, keep moving til you can reach a metal topped car or a building. If you have to stay put, get low to the ground with the least contact to the earth as possible (lightning squat method). There are no studies showing that really helps, but it’s worth a try if it’s all you got.

Ron Corkish, President and Mission Coordinator for La Plata County Search and Rescue told me, “Remember the fundamentals of Know Before You Go: If in doubt, don’t go. Going out is an option. Coming home isn’t.” For more information visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/lightning
Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the award-winning author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. She’s chocked full of character and cautionary tales.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

How to Not Get Struck by Lightning - Published in Elevation Outdoors, June 4, 2019 as Lightning Strikes

When the mountains called, they hadn’t mentioned anything about getting struck by lightning being part of the plan. They beckoned and I got my boots on and headed for the Bear Peak trailhead, only to find it swathed in heavy gray clouds.  

I should have listened to second thoughts. Colorado averages 500,000 ground strikes a year, most of those in June, July and August. Since I was hiking in October, I thought it would fine. More importantly to me at the time: I’d recently relocated to the Front Range from the rural Southwest and the city streets were closing in on me.

Besides, at 8,500 feet, Bear Peak was just a wee mountain and, though I’m not usually one to follow the crowd, I saw plenty of people who looked like they knew what they were doing heading out and I lemminged right after them. Right into one of the most hair-raising experiences of my life—literally, once I hit the peak, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I immediately turned to go. Within five minutes the storm unleashed with a terrifying assault of sleet, hail, thunder and lightning.

That’s when I realized my mistakes. For one, I’d hiked, on purpose, to the second highest point in the Boulder Mountain Park when it was completely socked in. Though I hadn’t witnessed any lightning or thunder up to that point, as weather.gov points out, the first lightning strike is just as deadly as any other and we all know how much lightning just loves high points like ridges and trees.  Second, once the storm let loose, jabbing lightning fingers all over that mountain? I had no idea what to do. I knew I couldn’t hide under a tree, but what about a boulder? Should I just run? I ended up running which, turns out, Runner’s World Magazine highly recommends if you can do it without plummeting off a cliff.

When I asked Patrick Kerscher, operations manager for El Paso Search and Rescue, about the best to-do’s, without hesitation he said, “Be aware and avoid the situation to begin with. Climb early to avoid the afternoon storms. Get out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible. If you’re in a group, spread out so a strike won’t take everyone out and there will be someone who can go for help or perform CPR.”

If you just gotta go, check the forecast. Dave Christenson of Rocky Mountain Rescue told me, “The weather service does a good job of predicting lightning.” Once there’s lightning, its behavior is almost impossible to predict. It can strike from clouds ten miles away or travel along the ground far from the original strike. NOAA, weather.gov,  and several other sources state, usually with an exclamation point at the end, “There is NO safe place outside during a thunderstorm!” So there’s that.

A study by the National Weather Service on lightning fatalities between 2006 to 2017 found that most people who get struck had shelter nearby, but waited too long to seek it. Trees, dugouts or picnic awnings aren’t shelter, they’re lightning rods. For true safety, nothing beats a car or building. Check out Weather.com for more lightning information.

June is smack dab in the middle of Colorado’s busy season, lightning-wise.  I made it off the mountain that day only breaking my phone, but according to the National Park Service, “On average, eleven people die from lightning each year in Colorado,” and Colorado has ranked 4th in the nation for lightning fatalities...since 1959.  Last year was one for the records, in a good way: Colorado had zero fatalities in 2018. Don’t be the one to break our winning streak.—Donna Stewart

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. She gets herself in impossible situations all the time. They make great stories!

To See the Article as Published in Elevation Outdoors:

Friday, October 5, 2018

Just A Little Bleeding

This is going to be a long read, but since you're on a writer's page, you might even be hoping for that. Still here?

Okay, So 2018 has been a challenging year for me, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I'm being shredded from the inside out, the soil from which I grow torn apart, sifted, examined...cleaned and enriched.

Over the last six months or so, much of which time has been spent recovering from various injuries I now know weren't random, I'm plundering beliefs, perceptions, experiences and...relationships. I'm sorting through all of this with as much authenticity, as much honesty as I can bare, ruthlessly tearing away noxious weeds, severing unhealthy relationships, while at the same time, trying to face my own mistakes, the darkness in my own heart, with a vigilance I've never braved before.

I never set out to do this. It was part of no resolution and I do not have a list I'm checking off. I take things on as I trip over them in my path.
At the same time, I face physical challenges that mirror the internal ones. In both cases, these challenges, once healed, could manifest a future so magical I can't even imagine. If I can pull off all this healing. It's all a marvel, really, to what end I can only theorize, but I see God's hand in all of it.
This morning, I came across my friend, Debbie Higgs,' post and was blown away by the truths, the messages, in myths. If you've got a moment more, read Debbie's post, which she credits to her friend, Chani Nicholas:
Your rage is sacred, holy ground. Proof that you are human. That the events that tried to break you have left their mark upon you. That the pain of your past, and that of generations past, is emerging through you. Wanting to be held by you. Brought to consciousness by you. Transformed by being spoken into existence by you.
Your rage waits for you to call it by its name.
Speak it. Translate it. Transcribe it. Plaster it up and down the halls that house abusers of power. In giant font. In wailing screams. In and through the vibrations true to you.
Pour your rage into your projects. Create ceremonies to honor it. Therapy sessions to hold it. Read the myths that contextualize it.
Find friendships that validate your rage. Communities that are galvanized by the conscious use of their own. Actions that channel it towards some kind of relief and release.
If your rage is showing up, if your pain is calling upon you, if the hurt that you have harbored for years is erupting, it trusts you enough to receive it.
Until we work with it, our rage, pain, and grief exists beneath the surface of everything we do. Seething. Soaking into and poisoning our best intentions. Contorting our hearts into shapes too collapsed to house the love we so desire. Wrapping itself around our life-force, strangling our creativity, staving off what is rightfully ours.
Stationing retrograde on October 5th, at 10° of Scorpio, Venus, planet of love, connection, relationships, women, femmes, femininity, and desire, reveals her other side. When Venus retrogrades we get to work with all that is in opposition to it. The experiences that evoke our most difficult emotions refuse to be ignored. One of Venus’s many retrograde lessons is that the abuse of all things Venus is old and deep. Wide and ready to be acknowledged. This goddess is hungry for justice too long withheld from her.
Retrograding every 18-months, the myths associated with Venus’s backward motion are of the goddess’s great descent. Venus was known as Inanna by the Sumerians. Her famous underworld journey is a tale of reckoning, awakening, and integrating the powerful material of the unconscious into consciousness.
Called one day by her sister, Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, Inanna descends to her realm. Ereshkigal is the opposite to Inanna’s beauty, glory, and adoration. She is the sister betrayed. Feared. Unloved. Alone. Rejected. Her pain has distorted her. Her hunger for love left unjustly unfulfilled. Ereshkigal is the aspect of Inanna, the aspect of us all, that lives just under the surface waiting for our consciousness to open to its call.
When she reaches her sister in the underworld, Inanna is met with a death stare that annihilates her. Her corpse is then hung on meat hooks, left to rot where no one can reach her. The only beings that come to her aid are two magical helpers who appease Ereshkigal by witnessing her pain, acknowledging it and mirroring her struggle back to her. These beings echo Ereshkigal’s cries and wails. For the first time Ereshkigal is relieved of her pain because she is related to. Accepted. Given some compassion for her struggle. In return for this kindness she gifts them Inanna’s body and the goddess is reborn. Ascending to the Great Above, Inanna is renewed, but is never the same. Now fully awakened by coming into contact with the pain of her other half, Innana is, for the first time, a Queen truly worthy of her crown.
Ereshkigal is the deep reservoirs of power that lay within the unconscious. We cannot come into contact with our full potential until we are willing to descend into our underworlds, reckoning with the truth of what has happened to us. The struggle of marrying the unconscious and the conscious, the Queen of the Great Above, and the Queen of the Great Below, is a process of transformation so intense and painful we can only do it in the underworld. We need deep caverns, incubators, and safe places to grieve and reunite with ourselves.
The collective rage that is being unleashed in this moment is incredible. Undeniable. Irreversible. Ancient. This has been a year of opening ourselves to the howls of Ereshkigal. We are all being asked to meet her, acknowledge her pain, and invite in the lessons and wisdom of this myth. We are not above the forces that threaten to pull us under, but we are undoubtedly made more whole when we can hold space for our broken and still beautiful selves....

Friday, August 24, 2018

Messages With a Groove: Balam Apju-Bats

This is a video from Balam Ajpu, the Mayan HipHop group I talk about in Chapter 16 of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals. Few things are as powerful as pure, soul-derived music. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

God Sends Durango Bud Light: Living With The 416 Fire Part III

We're going on a month of living with this crazy ole 416 fire. Last week, we thought we'd dodged the bullet But the hot temps and wind have the fire roaring again. The past couple of nights, the smoke has been so thick the hazardous air meters have been peaking and we're all keeping our windows shut at night, even though June is seeing temps average in the 90s. We're all keeping spirits high, though, and the outpouring of gratitude for the firemen holding the fire from town has been tremendous (Except me accidentally kicking one in the head the other night, but that's another story.).

So about that dodged bullet: As Hurricane Bud began stirring things up out at sea we were told that the storm wouldn't help the fire, and if it did, it would bring with it disasterous mud slides almost as bad as the fire itself (which, not to tempt fate, but I have a hard time imagining.). We were told that the only thing that would help was a slow, steady rain for days, the likes of which never come to the Southwest in June. But then it did.

Bud kicked and blustered and threatened a big ole walloping storm, then, like a good person with a bad temper, calmed down when it rushed upon land, causing little to no damage in Mexico, or anywhere else, as it marched straight for the Southwest. Hurricane Bud was downgraded to a tropical storm, earning the new comic title of Bud Light.

If you know me, you know I'm no fundamentalist, no member of any church. But if you've read my book, you also know that I am a strong believer in God and a believer in miracles. I can't see last week's storm as anything but. Even the Weather Channel came just short of calling it exactly that: 

"Bud's remnant moisture also brought rainfall into the Desert Southwest, which is unusual for June. According to Kristen Corbosiero, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University at Albany, "from 1958 to 2003 there has never been a tropical cyclone that tracked as far north as Bud and brought moisture to the U.S. Southwest in June." Hurricane Bud Recap, The Weather Channel, June 15, 2018

Yet, while the outpouring of gratitude for the firefighters has been tremendous, no one's said much of anything about our major moisture miracle nor from whence it might have come (besides from the South) nor to who else they should perhaps send out a big Thank YOU! So this blog is mine. Thank you, God, for our sweet reprieve last week. Like ungrateful children. sometimes we forget to say thank you for the biggest gifts, too eager to start playing with them. 

Smoke is once again boiling over Hermosa Creek. It settles into our Valley and surrounds our homes each night, a noxious blanket I don't know how the wildlife is surviving. I accidentally left a door cracked last night and woke up to a smoky house again, which reminded me that I meant to write this. I meant to say thank you. 

I want to stress that I DO NOT think the latest weather is a punishment for not saying 'Gosh, Thanks.' Again, if you know me, you know that I don't think God's that petty, not in the least. But, it's never to late to say thank you, and wouldn't it be nice if we got a poster or two on the wall thanking the maker, as well as the firefighters? Maybe even saying thank you FOR the firefighters? And keep the gratitude coming for the firefighters. They've been out there a month now and while some might be getting a bit weary of showing gratitude, remember that they are getting tired, too. But they don't have the luxury of stopping, nor would they think of giving up on your home and our town. 

So here's my toast, to the fire fighters and God Almighty. From the bottom of my heart, Thank YOU. This Bud's for you. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sorting Through Essentials When Your House is About to Burn Down: Living with the Durango 416 Fire Part II

In the middle of a forest fire might seem like a peculiar time to unfriend your sister, but I think that's what I just did. I don't mean unfriending from Facebook. She's never accepted my friend request so that's not even possible. I mean from my actual life.

Now that I'm experiencing it, it makes perfect sense that I would cut ties while I've got a forest fire breathing down my backyard. Wandering around my house with a haze of clever smoke that's found it's way through cracks I haven't yet found and sealed, I'm photographing my belongings in the event my house burns down and I have to prove to the insurance company that I really owned this and that. I'm choosing which ones I'm actually going to carry away in the car with me, and which ones money can actually replace. In the process I'm learning there's a lot that I can do without, and there's a lot that weighs me down and drains me. It's an interesting exercise to conduct when all of your thought processes are taking place in your amygdala, otherwise known as your most primitive, survival-driven lizard brain.

I'm sorting between my daughter's toys (from birth (moved four times) to stuffed animals she got for her birthday a few weeks ago, our favorite books, shoes, sweaters, files, photo albums, climbing equipment...why not family members, too? Granted, a few weeks from now, perhaps, when the rains have come and everyone is safe and dandy, I wonder if I'll regret this, but right now? Not a bit.

Last week, i sent an email (because that's how my F-ed up family communicates, almost exclusively) about the fires. I sent a video of the billowing smoke that my daughter and I were among the first to spot while out garage saling. Nothing. No response. This passed Monday, I sent an email talking about what it was like to live in this cloud of smoke and helicopters. I told them how scared we all were. I asked them to pray for rain.

No response. Finally, a day later, I get an email from my Uncle saying he'd pray for us. From my sister and my mother: Not one word.

If you've read my book, you know our relationship has never been what you'd call close. It's barely civil. My sister and I haven't even seen each other in person in over 5 years and I haven't heard her voice in 3. We've barely spoken since my parents got divorced. I'd grown accustomed to this bizarre, arms-length sisterhood and didn't really think it bothered me that much anymore.

Our family has never been overly affectionate. I remember as a child lying at my mother's feet while we watched movies and slowly trying to inch closer to her for chance she might lay her hand on my head, for that rare moment she might pet my back. If I was a plant I would have shriveled up and died.

I'm not telling you this story so you'll feel sorry for me. Don't. If you did read my book you'll see I'm having an amazing life, full of adventure and love. I'm telling you this so you might understand unfriending my sister from my life. I never said it doesn't hurt. Hurts bad.

After years of struggling to be a part of our messed up family, getting absolutely no response from my sister or mother...well, truth is, being part of this arms-length family has become more painful with time, not less. It's painful to struggle to remain a part of it. But I struggle because...well, they're my family. And we don't really have much. It always seemed like it would be worse to have conversations with people who ask, "Do you have any brothers and sisters?" And to try to evade revealing how the relationship was so toxic I had to disconnect it. But lately? People are leaving our family not so much from family deaths as from opting out. My cousins, one by one, stopped talking to their parents. I've hung in there, if for no other reason than to try to imagine to myself I actually have a birth family. (Again, don't feel sorry for me. I have an amazing husband, daughter and puppy. I've MADE a wonderful life.).

But after getting no response about the email for several days, and operating almost completely from that ole lizard brain, I did something I should have done a long time ago. I let loose with this email:

"Really? Bobby is the only one who responded??? And you wonder why I moved out West and never came back? When I lived in Memphis I heard from no ONE. EVER. Lana, you didn't call me for 5 or 6 years. I don't think I've heard your actual voice in several years now. Mom, I saw you maybe once or twice a year and when I did, you acted like it was the worst thing that could have happened to you that day, and it's how you've acted every time I've visited from Colorado, too. The last couple of years you act like me going to the time and expense to come see you is mild compared to the inconvenience to you to make time for me when I do get there.  I'm really starting to wonder why I've ever bothered."

I should probably mention I'm still Lizard braining it, so posting this entire thing might be a questionable decision. My husband cautions that I might burn bridges. Right now, in this state. I'm not out to burn bridges. I'm lobbing grenades. 

Anyhoo. My response from my email? My mother "excused me" (by email) because I was obviously so freaked out by the fire. She still expressed no actual concern. She warned me not to put things in email (or blogs) when I'm upset because those words are difficult to erase. 

Now, I can't be certain of this, but in times like these, aren't families supposed to call and console, encourage, or something??? As a mother now myself, I know that's exactly what I would do. I'd probably be on a plane to be by her side or urge her to come to mine. 

In my time of need, my mother, on the other hand, warns me not to say things that might upset anybody. Well why not? Cause I might damage our families fragile bonds? That I might be cast out of their warm embrace and they might not be there for me when I need them? Let me tell you, I've had a lot of hard times in my life (again, see my book ) and they haven't done diddly squat during any of them. Actually it's been worse than that. There responses have been about the way they have been during this crisis: Furthering my sense of isolation and driving the heartache deeper. Abandonment issues? Yep, got 'em in spades. 

My sister and I exchanged ever escalating emails to the point that the last email signaled the end of our relationship. Will I change my mind after this is all over? Will I regret sharing this with you? Frankly, it feels so good to say it out loud, to finally stop trying to figure out what I've done wrong and decide that they're wrong, to believe in my stance so strongly that I'm willing to open it up to challenge. Bring it. Right now, I examine this relationship. What is it? What is this family that communicates primarily through email and shrugs, gloats or SHUNS in times of need. It's dirty, dusty and barbed, difficult to handle, really too prickly to hold. It's something I just have, that just sits there as part of my existence but doesn't nourish my life. Quite the opposite. If I reach for it, it hurts me. Throughout my life, despite my best efforts, I struggle with the emptiness, the longing, the self-doubts and self-criticism a life of being treated with something that feels more akin to disdain or aversion than familial love brings. It has made me strong. But it also continues to wound and scar. Parts of my psyche, of my self-perception, have been on fire all my life and I've been struggling to hold onto them, to drown the embers, but the fuels just keep coming.

With limited resources, the Firefighters out there on the actual ridges have to choose where to make their stands and when to let stands burn. Maybe I should too.  

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What's It Like Living Down The Street From the Durango 416 Forest Fire??

(video taken by me and my daughter, first day of the fire, minutes after it started.) 

What's it Like Living Down The Street From the Durango 416  Forest Fire?

I live in Durango, Colorado, home of the roaring 416 fire. The past couple of days, friends and family are asking, "Are you safe? Are you leaving? What's it like right now?" 

It's pretty damned surreal. Last week, when the fire was just a wee 8,000 acres, I was online encouraging everyone to still come to Durango. I told them the fire wasn't defining us. That we still had so much to offer as a town, including a relatively safe place from which you could view the incredible spectacle that is a forest fire. I'm not doing that this week.

I'd gone away for the weekend and as we were driving home Sunday night, you could see the boiling, frothing smoke from the fire from almost three hours drive away. It looks like a volcano erupting. Not just drifting smoke, but moving, folding, rolling smoke, in varying shades of gray - and sometimes orange billowing hundreds, maybe thousands of feet into the sky. 

It's a very unsettling feeling to see such a sight where you know your home is on the horizon...and you're still driving straight for it. 

Once we reached home, it was bizarre. People are just going about their lives. They're wandering main street, riding bikes, kayaking down the river, playing with their dog, running errands...with this enormous, menacing plume of smoke hanging over everyone's heads. Okaaaaayyyyyy.

We unpacked from camping and joined the multitude trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy with this big beast hanging over our heads. We went paddle boarding.

But the beast doesn't just hang. Sunday night I accidentally left a window open. I woke up at 2 am, choking on smoke and fumes, eyes stinging, nose and throat burning.  I woke up my husband, daughter and dog, and ushered everyone into the guest room, the one room where the smoke hadn't reached. We were having difficulty breathing and I wanted to go outside for fresh air, but outside was even worse. There was no where to go. My heart pounding, I struggled with terror trying to decide what to do while keeping it together for my daughter. Despite the burning eyes, nose and throat, she was giddy at her new sleeping arrangement: a sleepover with Mom, Dad and the Dog all in one room. 

I've been pretty scared since then. 

Our home is surrounded by huge, beautiful Ponderosa Pine trees. I have a dozen within ten feet of my house. Needles and limbs are in piles all over the place. They're piled because I've been trying to clear decades, or centuries, of build up off the ground since we moved in last year. The fire is still seven miles away as the crow flies, but the plume comes right over our house. As does the squadron of helicopters going to and from their fuel source. Every few minutes during the day, we're shaken by the rumbling, thawking sound of the helicopters and get a pretty good idea of how hard they're working because, at times, it sounds like a war zone. 

At night, cooler temps cause the smoke to settle towards the ground and our house, and town, are enveloped in this thick, noxious cloud. I don't know how wildlife is surviving, but they are. We still hear and see birds and deer. Cows, sheep, and horses, like their distant human cousins, go about their days as they normally do, meandering fields and rolling in dust. I have no idea what they do when the cloud sinks to the ground for the night and the air becomes acrid and angry.

In the morning, the sun shines through the smoke giving strange, orangish light. The cloud starts to lift and by around 3, you can almost not smell it. That's when you open all your windows and try to get some fresh air in the house before you have to shut it all down for the nightly return of the smoke.

I've rarely been this scared. When I can't fight the curiosity anymore, I go look at the fire to see how much closer to town it's stormed. Every time I see it, my heart races, and from deep within my DNA comes the urge to get the hell out of here. In those moments, it takes A LOT to overcome the intense urge to run the other direction. But I'm still here. We're still here. And GOD BLESS THE FIREMEN WHO ARE MAKING SURE OF THAT.

This fire won't destroy us. It won't destroy Durango. Not it's beauty, not the incredible spirits of it's courageous people. When this is all over, come see us. There's no place like it in the entire world. I think when the smoke lifts today, I'll take my daughter paddle boarding.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls.