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A Fortnight After the Fire: ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

It’s late in the evening on the 20th of November 2018; otherwise known as “the month that will not end.” Since the initial shock of the Camp Fire incinerating my home and my hometown, I’ve been struggling with details small, large, and life-altering. My house is burned out and for now so am I.

But all is not gloom and doom. I have, against all odds, actually secured a small apartment in Chico, a town where there are no apartments or houses to be had for love or money — unless it is a LOT of love or a LOT of money. In my case, it was the love of many here in Chico for my mother. Through what I have taken to calling “The Power of Lois” an apartment appeared on my path and I took it. What is even better is that it is located close to my mother’s apartment. This enables us to go from being “roommates” to “neighbors.”

The apartment is a tiny place (about a sixth of what my house was) but it is quite secure and recently refurbished and it will suit me down to the ground.

This forms one of the three pillars of my own personal salvation and deliverance from the fires of Paradise. The second pillar is formed of a living chain of my friends and readers whose help and support have carried me through and, in all senses of the term, returned me to life. To say I am deeply moved and grateful for all your unremitting and instantaneous aid is to barely touch my gratitude. I am a man of words and I have always been suspicious when I read “there are no words.” But all of you have made me a believer.

The third pillar has to be the continuing and mysterious grace of God.

Now it is late and I am, I confess, very, very tired. I’ve been running on empty for many days and I think I am going to have to take a break for tomorrow and for Thanksgiving and perhaps the day after. I have many notes and will have many things to say about this unmitigated catastrophe, but they will have to wait.

Farewell for a bit and God bless you all. Have a deep and profound Thanksgiving. This year I know that my family will when we gather at my brother’s home. At my brother’s, we don’t normally drink a great deal of wine but this year we will toast all of you. Each and every one.

And then I will go outside into the woods near his home in Grass Valley and for all those who did not survive the fire this time I will turn down an empty glass.

If this essay pleased or informed you DONATE HERE with my thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marica November 21, 2018, 1:22 AM

    And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
    End in what All begins and ends in — Yes;
    Think then you are TO-DAY what YESTERDAY
    You were — TO-MORROW you shall not be less.
    Wishing you & yours a quiet Thanksgiving.

  • Dan Patterson November 21, 2018, 3:34 AM

    Best to you and yours.
    Things can go red in an eyeblink or less and no manner of prep is enough. Being able to run, hide, fight, or negotiate can get you out of harms’ way but only if you’re lucky; there are no guarantees and a disaster is not impressed with your plan. So you do what you can do, and going small and simple has many benefits. Drinking wine with your brother has benefits as well, so enjoy and let yourself heal. Remember that you are not guilty and that you are a relieved survivor.
    Maybe find a good dog to rescue next.
    Cheers and happy Thanksgiving.

  • Jaynie November 21, 2018, 4:17 AM

    Your posts are often pure artistry. For that, and all you do, thank you.

    PS You can often find wonderful high quality clothing, second hand, from the website Etsy.

  • H November 21, 2018, 4:24 AM

    Gerard, old buddy, who I’ve never met in person, we’re here for you and thankful for you betimes as well.

  • Jeff Brokaw November 21, 2018, 4:37 AM

    A great illustration of why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: it’s about being with people you love, about gratitude and family and friends and memories of growing up. Also, food. And faith, although we have mostly forgotten that part — George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving as a feast to give thanks to God.

    All the important things in one holiday. It’s a beautiful thing. Have a great one Gerard and again many thanks to you for the wonderful website you run, it has brought me wonder and joy for a decade and a half!

  • The Old Salt November 21, 2018, 4:43 AM

    God bless you, Gerard; you haven’t lost your gift.

  • Roy Lofquist November 21, 2018, 5:40 AM

    Rest, friend.

  • David Spence November 21, 2018, 6:31 AM

    Please, rest! You have done yeoman’s work here since the fire and I’m certainly not the only one here who enjoys a second, third or fourth reading of your posts. God bless!
    (Just keep updating your Amazon wish list occasionally). 🙂

  • jwm November 21, 2018, 6:45 AM

    Rest and be well. We’re grateful to have you with us.
    God Bless.


  • John the River November 21, 2018, 7:03 AM

    Happy Thanksgiving! Best wishes to your mom from me.

    Tomorrow I’m riding into Cambridge to have dinner with my GF’s family, it will be a quiet day. Mostly because I’m under orders to keep my mouth shut until we leave the People’s Republic of Cambridgestan to return home. Well, I’m not driving so I plan to drink.
    I hope there’s no pot in the air there, ‘Recreational Maryjane’ sales in Massachusetts started yesterday.

  • Terry November 21, 2018, 7:17 AM

    Gerard, you are on my wife Susan’s and my mind each and every day. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.

  • Jack in NH November 21, 2018, 7:19 AM

    “Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.” — The Gulag Archipelago, vol. I
    Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours!

  • Theduchessofkitty November 21, 2018, 7:56 AM

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Gerard.

  • Julie November 21, 2018, 8:15 AM

    I hope you and your family have a blessed, restful, and grace-filled Thanksgiving. Thank you for allowing us to walk a little way with you on your journey.

  • Nick in WA November 21, 2018, 8:27 AM

    Rest well. Your God-given gift for prose touches us all. I

    Soon after I found your site, you first posted “The Name in the Stone”. It remains the single best essay I have ever read. Full stop.

    PS – There’s now one less thing on your Amazon list.

  • Nobody Atall November 21, 2018, 8:40 AM

    Thanksgiving blessings upon you, Gerard, and your wonderful Mother and Family. I am thankful for you, Gerard, for your writings and musings that have brought much beauty into my life and soul. I am thankful for your Mother for raising you, and also for her oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie recipe that is better than my own mother’s recipe (and she agreed on that) — I have passed that recipe along to my children, so it will be loved long after we are gone (I put her name prominently at the top of the page). I will never be the kind of person that your Mother is and my Mother was — the quiet other-loving person who is widely respected and beloved in the community — but they are the people I try to model myself after. And you, too, in trying to look at the world and see its depth and beauty, even in the midst of holocaust, right down to the depths of the holy soul in our hearts. Thank you, thank your Mother, thank God. May He bless you and yours always. Amen.

  • Geri November 21, 2018, 10:03 AM

    I’m glad to hear you have found a place to live. Have a loving Thanksgiving and please say hello to your mom and Tom for me. I do hope you have found the wedding ring. xx

  • Casey Klahn November 21, 2018, 10:03 AM

    Your mom’s a rock, and so are you!

    Thanks for every word written. Rest well and have a blessed Thanksgiving. Last night we had a pot roast that I cooked, but Thursday Lorie’s 95 year old mom will lay out a turkey feast. Surprised? She’s the farmer’s wife of legend.

  • J. Ken November 21, 2018, 11:09 AM

    There is no expression to convey the somber station where I reflect in emotional turmoil. For all the lives lost -taken by the fires in California, there’s no reprieve from the sorrow. Layers of abstraction serve inslulate the tumultuous knot at my core. I am ashamed of my selfish inspiration -a daily dose of Van der Leun’s articles. I dedicate the following ballads that echo the melancholy that binds us.
    Heart With No Companion – Leonard Cohen
    Forever Autumn – The Moody Blues

  • JoanOfArgghh! November 21, 2018, 11:14 AM

    As a wise person once wrote, “If you don’t rest when the Winter is here, what will you bear in the Fall?”
    Rest beneath the snowy burden of ashes and wait. Your roots run deeper than you know. Rest.

  • Kerry November 21, 2018, 12:35 PM

    You take good care of yourself, we’ll take good care of ourselves, and we’ll all be available for another lap around the block come sunrise. See you soon!

    Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

  • Booter November 21, 2018, 12:42 PM

    Today’s news… that you have a safe apartment and a goddess for a mother… makes me well and truly thankful, Gerard. Happy Thanksgiving and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

  • tscottme November 21, 2018, 12:56 PM

    May God continue to bless you and your family. Happy Thanksgiving and peace and joy when you need it most.

  • dan churchill November 21, 2018, 2:31 PM

    GREETINGS from a native son, born & raised in paradise, lived there thru the 50s & mid 60s, still have 2 cousins missing, both our 2 houses totally burned, totally unreal how much damage was done to the whole town. now living in B.C.but still love paradise, hard to digest the complete ruins of my childhood playground. stay well happy thanksgiving. CHEERS DAN

  • Kristin November 21, 2018, 2:41 PM

    Find more strength during these days you are with your family. I am often thinking of you in these days, and also if your mom.
    May God bless you at infinitum.

  • Denis Wauchope November 21, 2018, 5:34 PM

    God bless you and your mother and your cat, Gerard. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and I give thanks that you are still among us though it breaks my heart that so many have been lost.

    me ke aloha pau ole.

  • Jimmy November 21, 2018, 5:57 PM

    Hasten your slumber, old man, and let yourself dream new dreams, only to emerge anew.

  • Fred November 21, 2018, 6:07 PM
  • Fred again November 21, 2018, 6:08 PM
  • Fred November 21, 2018, 6:10 PM

    or the linkage-

    Heres the point-
    Rest up old friend, it will all be here when you get back.
    And so will we.
    Happy Turkey Day.

  • PA Cat November 21, 2018, 6:22 PM

    Thanksgiving prayers for ongoing healing and much-needed rest for you, your precious mother and brother, and Miss Olive. As the Northeast hunkers down for the coldest Thanksgiving on record (high of 28 F for these parts tomorrow), I am truly grateful that you and yours escaped the Camp Fire. Sending you a link to the best performance I could locate of Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s organ prelude on the classic German thanksgiving hymn, “Nun Danket Alle Gott.” It’s a triumphant rather than a meditative piece, so you’ll probably want to catch up on your sleep before clicking the link.

    I thought of this hymn not only because it was commonly sung in church at Thanksgiving when I was growing up but also because of its reference to a mother’s love in the first stanza. And the circumstances of its writing certainly fits your present circumstances. Martin Rinkart was a German pastor serving a city in Saxony that was repeatedly visited by plague during the Thirty Years’ War. In 1637 he had to conduct as many as 50 funerals a day (including those of his wife and three of their children) because he was the only pastor left alive in the city. The tune was written in 1647, and both words and tune were widely sung in Germany by the time of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Whenever I’m anxious about my present situation, I remind myself that stronger souls than mine could survive the worst that nature and humankind could throw at them and still give thanks.

    Nun danket alle Gott
    mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
    der große Dinge tut
    an uns und allen Enden,
    der uns von Mutterleib
    und Kindesbeinen an
    unzählig viel zu gut
    bis hierher hat getan.

    Now thank we all our God,
    with heart and hands and voices,
    Who wondrous things has done,
    in Whom this world rejoices;
    Who from our mothers’ arms
    has blessed us on our way
    With countless gifts of love,
    and still is ours today.

    God bless “all y’all,” and please take care.

  • Leslie November 21, 2018, 7:03 PM

    Godspeed, my friend.

  • Anonymous November 21, 2018, 7:26 PM

    I only have one word….HIRAETH.

  • Mike Hendrix November 21, 2018, 9:48 PM

    So glad that things are looking up a bit for you, Gerard. May God bless you and your mom, always and forever.

  • Karen November 22, 2018, 1:27 AM

    Happy Thanksgiving, Gerard, to you and yours. God Bless you on your way. You are rising from out of the ashes and we rejoice!

  • John Venlet November 22, 2018, 7:14 AM

    Gerard, God Bless and may this Thanksgiving Day be especially wondrous and thankful.

    @PA Cat – Thanks for linking to “Nun Danket Alle Gott.” When I watched and listened to it I could only think of my Mum at the organ playing that exact hymn. She’s been playing since she was 14 years old. She turned 87 in October of this year and her hands and heart of faith still enrich that hymn each time she plays it.

  • Everyman November 22, 2018, 10:18 AM

    May your house be safe from tigers, my friend.

  • Charles Harrell November 21, 2019, 8:05 AM

    Gerard, you’re a phoenix and arising from the ashes of a previous existence with the blessings of many for an exceptional man. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • LoL No November 25, 2019, 6:47 PM

    You know what else you are, I mean aside from tired? You’re blessed. and, more importantly, AWARE of said blessings. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to you and yours.