Surviving, or Trial by Fire

McKinley and Eden are two villages that have vanished from this Island of ours. They have left merely traces of their existence. Otter Creek has lost its school, its post office and this year the market is closed. And yet the spirit of this little village is strong. It will survive.

Survivors, who are they, what are they, why them and not another?

Several years ago the Christmas tree fell over, with a bit of assistance from Mouchoir the cat. The crystal snowflakes the Man of Few Words brought me from Germany took a direct hit. One was shattered, a broom and dustpan the only way to deal with it. Another lost a few brilliant glass branches, I have them and may super glue it back together some day. The last two are a bit chipped and damaged, but survived enough to go back on the tree.

I now have a ritual, the broken crystal ornaments awaiting glue stay in the triangular Swaroski box, the others I hang with care and appreciation. I loved all the crystal snowflakes before the accident, but since the two I hang are the only ones that survived the tree disaster I cherish them in spite of, or perhaps because, of the chips and nicks.

Is it the near loss that makes me appreciate even more than before? Is it sad to have to almost lose something to increase appreciation?

It was almost three months ago that our house burned to the ground. It was my husband’s house, with all of his belongings. We lived a quarter mile away from each other, met, married, and were together either up there (his house, we called it Music Hill) or down here (my house, on Ben’s Hill). The root cellar was at Music Hill, as was the computer room, exercise space, movie monitor, the pantry and what we called survival food. Airtight containers filled with pasta, grains, dried vegetables, seeds, a wide assortment of basics that would feed us for a year. The fire that destroyed most of his belongings left a smoldering, smelly and charred skeleton but also randomly left areas virtually untouched. The survival food survived. Dried mushrooms and peas were rehydrated and served over gnocchi, one of several meals we have dubbed fire dinners. A chamber pot survived. We lifted a blackened bookcase and our sodden clothing underneath to find a photo album with photos still intact. In it were photos from neighbor Mike Bracy’s funeral when a doe came to pay her respects. This event and its images were remarkable, a curiosity, before. But now that it emerged from the flames when we were sure it was gone, it is priceless.

A fire that consumes one’s home is more than most people have to contend with. Rebuilding is time consuming and involves endless decisions. Just when my husband and I are ready to enjoy our time together biking, traveling and entertaining friends, we instead need to contemplate floor plans, building codes, sinks, windows, electricians, siding–it seems formidably endless. This fire also destroyed some of my husband’s family’s belongings, as his daughter was staying there at the time of the fire. Stress, emotion, uncertainty, the aftershocks of a home fire are as difficult as the fire itself. But like the chamber pot and dried ravioli, we have survived. Dennis’ daughter and family are back in their home rebuilding their lives, and we will rebuild ours. We will cherish the chamber pot, a grandson’s quilt, a pair of candlesticks and a photo album because they withstood the flames and are dearer for it. We almost lost them.

We have a village that will overcome a lack of post office and market. Otter Creek will not be as easily lost in time as Eden and McKinley. From the ashes of our house fire we have made dinners and plan a new energy efficient home. We pick the flowers from the house site for our table and look at them and marvel. They are indeed more special than any other wildflowers. We are surviving trial by fire.


Wooly caterpillars on the prowl, Monarch Chrysalis turns transparent, a flock of wild turkeys block the road on the way home from work.

2 thoughts on “Surviving, or Trial by Fire

  1. Oh. This is so sad. First I heard. Loss can put such a dent in our emotional selves. I do believe that we are refilled eventually, but the shock can be so deep and wrenching. Good luck with everything. :)

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