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Praying for Rain in the Ashes of Paradise

In those lines where we all line up, this time  for the free and needful things at the Salvation Army’s Airport Supermarket (No charge.) we all talked about the rains; the rains that were forecast, the rains we hoped to have; the rains that when they come, even if they come in this very instant, come far too late this year; far too late for all of us.

The grandmother with the thousand yard stare who stood next to me wanted rain, wanted it badly. “It’ll put the fires out. Finally. Forecast to be a real soaking rain, a real soaker I heard,” she said as she snagged the escaping toddler among her seven grandchildren. She’d been working in the post office in Paradise, left it almost too late, got home and scooped up her grandchildren and, “My six Yorkies. Rounded them up and put them the van with the kids. Off we went. The fire was starting to surround us. All the kids were quiet but the Yorkies just yapped and yipped all the way out. We have to have that rain. We just have to have it. It’s going to be a soaker.”

She and her older children lost five houses between them. All were burned out. All were saved. Her son, a solid man with an even and determined look, came over and agreed about the rain. “I’m buying an RV and I’m going to park it right next to the foundation of my house. Get a generator and some chain link fencing. You should too, mom.” She was off scooping up her escaping toddler while the son’s wife secured a daughter who was trying to escape from her stroller. “Better rain. Better rain soon.”

As we waited in the line and silently prayed for rain, a strange thing began to happen to Chico. The smoke began to lift. The air began to clear. Some blue. S0me clear blue began to appear. And then, for the first time since the immolation of Paradise (How many days was it? Was it yesterday, or last week, or before.) it was a beautiful autumn day in Chico. Somewhere off to the south, and off to the east,  the Camp Fire continued to burn but all that was previous, previous.

The air was still bad, of course. The air was still full of soot and toxins and all the hundreds of things given off from the burning of the corpse of Paradise, but here and now down in the valley it seemed clear and we heard the rains were coming. It was a beautiful day with the rains on the way. That was the forecast for Chico and a lot of the masks, the white smoke masks, came off.

I left the Salvation Army Everything Free Supermarket after getting some needful things and called my mother’s doctor. My mother had been housebound by the smoke for days and she hadn’t had a flu shot. And this year, of all the years of her life, she needed a flu shot. She’d survived The 1918 influenza pandemic and didn’t need to press her luck again 100 years later. I called her doctor and got an immediate appointment. We went to the office and they took her in immediately. In the reception area, the nurses were all talking about the rain. Hoping for the rain. Praying for the rain.

When we left we took some extra time to drive down the central boulevard of Chico, the Esplanade. We drove slowly on this most extraordinary clear and deep-dyed autumn day. Along the center of the Esplanade, the gingkos were in their final gold and the clear afternoon sunlight made the red leaves of the oaks glow. Then we went back to my mother’s apartment where the lady that comes to help her was waiting for, praying for, and talking about nothing but the rain.

In Brooklyn on 9/11, I’d watched the Towers burn and fall in the middle of the same kind of clear and beautiful autumn day. To the north and to the south of the Towers as seen from the Brooklyn Heights promenade it was all serene. Serene but made obscene with the burning funeral pyre of three thousand people sending up thick and deadly smoke in the exact center of a crisp blue sky.

In the days after the Towers fell, all in the city prayed for rain. We prayed for rain so that those waters from heaven, cold and deep and drenching, might put out the fires and cool the embers and we would all be restored and returned to life as it was.

And the rains came. And the dust on the leaves ran gold into the gutters. And the fires still burned on deep in “The Pile.” Burned for months and months as the smoke rose and drifted and swirled, a constant despised companion. And now it was seventeen years later and we were all praying for rain in Paradise.

And we were not restored by the rains then and these rains will not restore us now. Like a root fire, it will burn on inside all of us. Who will stop the rain? God knows.

Heard the singers playin’
How we cheered for more
The crowd then rushed together
Tryin’ to keep warm
Still the rain kept pourin’
Fallin’ on my ears
And I wonder, still I wonder
Who’ll stop the rain?

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  • John Venlet November 20, 2018, 9:43 AM

    If those rains come, the ashes of Paradise, mixed with the rains, could create a whole ‘nother mess. Pray they come slow and easy, I’d say, or folks may be praying for the “Who’ll stop the rain?”

  • Vanderleun November 20, 2018, 9:49 AM

    I know about that and plan to write a separate item after we see what these rains bring

  • Tod Nedrow November 20, 2018, 11:17 AM

    Standing by the well, wishing for the rains
    Reaching to the clouds, for nothing else remains
    Drifting in a daze, when evening will be done
    Try looking through a haze
    At an empty house, in the cold, cold sun
    I will wait until it all goes round
    With you in sight, the lost are found

    -Richard Manuel

  • Lance de Boyle November 20, 2018, 11:23 AM

    In either hand the hastening Angel caught
    Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
    Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
    To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
    They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
    Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
    Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate
    With dreadful faces thronged, and fiery arms:
    Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
    The world was all before them, where to choose
    Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
    They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
    Through Eden took their solitary way.

  • John Venlet November 20, 2018, 12:20 PM

    Gerard, I just took a peek at the weather forecast (Intellicast) for Paradise. It currently predicts almost 6 inches of rain over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I pray the weather prognosticators are wrong. That’s too much rain too fast after an all consuming fire in that kind of terrain.

  • Chuck Rostkowski November 20, 2018, 2:44 PM

    Gerard, Your reference to “Easter, 1916” caught my eye and seemed so appropriate for what those in Paradise have been through.

  • Phil in Englewood November 20, 2018, 4:27 PM

    Made me remember this, James Gang from long ago and far away; Ashes The Rain and I


  • Kathleen & Steve, Nashville November 20, 2018, 5:43 PM

    My apologies in advance if it is poor timing to share these quotes – 8+ years after our flood losses in Nashville, we are just beginning to be able to examine these truths. We pray you may have this experience in the fullness of God’s timing for you.

    “No one who tastes death up close and personal is ever the same again.”
    “People who survive catastrophic loss often say that they survived by coming to see, in time, that they somehow had to take the loss into themselves and allow it to enlarge their heart(sic) so that their capacity to live well and to enjoy simple things and to know God intimately increased in a way they never thought possible.”

    From Living Life Backward by David Gibson, Chapter 6, “Learning to Love the Limitations of Life”

  • real American November 20, 2018, 6:35 PM
  • John the River November 20, 2018, 8:00 PM

    I remember an old episode of Route 66. A old actor, J. Carrol Nash if I remember correctly, played a California farmer. His crops were at a delicate point just prior to harvest, a little rain would be OK, heavy rain would bring loss, but hail would be disastrous. As he sat drinking wine he heard the rain start outside. He ran out and stood in his fields looking up and clasping his vines he intoned “Keep it soft, God. Keep it soft”.

    Keep it soft God for our friends in Chico and Paradise. Keep it soft.

  • Howard Nelson November 20, 2018, 8:40 PM

    Some are annealed by fire
    Some are annealed by flood.
    Some are annealed by starvation
    Some are annealed by every privation.
    Surviving each trial
    Some dross is removed
    And spiritual steel is proved.
    Onlooker, far away, may wonder
    How will I stand
    When my life comes asunder?

  • AbigailAdams November 21, 2018, 5:43 AM

    The storm is passing over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZATW4MnRxo

    Our prayers for you and all of you never ceasing.

    Love, J&G

  • John Condon November 22, 2018, 11:22 AM

    Here’s the most thorough report on Paradise that I have seen so far.

    Whats Left after Paradise Camp Fire | Aftermath / Ruins | Over 600 People Missing

  • captflee November 21, 2019, 11:26 AM

    Netflix has a documentary entitled “Fire in Paradise”, which I found pretty moving. I’ve gotta say, I’m still think I’m sticking with inundation over incineration (and I do not say that lightly; my bride of 30+ years as an 18 year old had to flee into the teeth of a Cat 3 hurricane from a house blown to pieces by two large trees falling onto it). Fire scares the crap out of me, as it does most of us who followed the sea.

    And to our patron, welcome back from your sojourn among the great and the good, sir!