ALPENA -- My neighbour leaves me a voicemail: The fire department wants us to be prepared for an evacuation order.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I make a list of things to do before evacuating. Open the cages of the turkeys, open the cages of the chickens, put the parakeets into the car, untie the dogs, put Grumpie and Cripple in the car, get my papers, open the gate so the goats can get out, put the sign "evacuated" (with contact number) at the mail box at the end of the drive way, and call my friend to meet me at the bottom of the hill with her car so we can evacuate the dogs that I will have follow my car. Make sure I have my important phone numbers with me and my phone charger.
I look at my belongings: What to take? Why this instead of that? This afternoon we watched a DVD about detachment and liberation. Well, what a practice! I may get liberated from everything on the Fourth of July.
I talk with the neighbours about our emergency communication. A fire truck drives up. The driver and another volunteer , clearly an old timer, come to see what the situation looks like from our perspective, communicating with other people on other locations.
I notice something interesting: people who have lived here their whole life and followed the "local information exchange" live in another landscape than later import. All mountains have names that maps don't show, properties have names that don't match those of the current owners, there are roads out there that nobody seems to know about any more, and there is knowledge about old foundations.
It seems that that information could be very helpful in situations like the current one: There is confusion about a structure on Holden Mountain. I live on Turtle Mountain (to prevent upheaval, we hardly use the original name) and I am aware of some old roadbeds that lead to neighbors' properties and around the mountain. We also know the old foundations.
Jim, the owner, mentions some other roads on neighbors' properties and he knows where they are going, like deeper into the valley. They don't show up on maps and maybe will show on satellite pictures when the leaves are off the trees.
I can see landowners and oldtimers sit together with fire district chiefs and emergency department workers to create new maps that include that old information. With mountains like Holden on fire, any knowledge of old neglected roadbeds that can still be traveled with Jeeps may be useful.
Back at home, I make a cup of tea and internally give thanks for all the volunteers that are out there fighting the fire: People I may know and some that I may never meet. Their" fireworks" became "fire work"...All four or five fire districts participating in this event are volunteer fire departments. I feel how we are all interconnected and how dependent we are on what other people are doing, whether we know it or not. We seem to be safe enough to go to sleep at night
The next day we go around Bobo Road to the area where most of the fire took place and run into Sam Barr with a person from Carroll County Emergency Management. We hear that among the volunteers out there are 30 Native Americans from Oklahoma -- I understand from the Caddo Tribe -- in the blistering heat.
Regardless of the message that the fire is 75 percent contained, a part of me stays hypervigilant: why do I see only one helicopter with a water container, then nothing? There is still a lot of smoke on top of the mountain. It seems that the fire could still creep over the mountain, down into the valley, up our mountain. Why are there not 10 helicopters? I hear that there are two Black Hawks from the National Guard on standby. Why are they not flying with water? Out is out! Please, as soon as possible!
I feel I don't know enough. The community preparedness training that was going to take place in Alpena and I planned to attend got cancelled and may have been rescheduled without me being aware of it. I realize that we could have picked up some cases with water or whatever was needed to drop it off for volunteers and crews.
Looking at the burned land and the smoke, I wonder how many people look from the outside and think "that's their problem" when something goes wrong. I think that everybody in a community should be trained in some form or way, or have practical information, to be a part of the solution, even if you cannot do the physical work out there.
Next time it may be your turn to be on the receiving end. You don't need a foreign terrorist to see your life change dramatically. One act of neglect, of disregard for the law or lack of foresight of a neighbour can do the job. One act can make you wonder: can we feel safe and go to sleep tonight?