Cambrian: Opinion

Fire’s questions: What to take, what to leave behind

It’s funny what goes through your mind when you think you may have to leave everything you’ve known/had for 27 years behind. While Cambria has been bravely protected, I must say the for the first time in my 35 years of living here, I was seriously nervous Saturday as I watched bombers dropping retardant on the hills behind San Simeon.

I snapped a couple of photos of the smoke-filled skies for my sons in Portland and Hawaii (the latter stating his resident island of Oahu doesn’t really get big wildfires … rub it in, kid) and then headed home to make some kind of a plan. You know those clichéd commercials on the radio, “Maybe now is the time to make a plan.” Well, I guess a little more motivation was needed. Got it. My sister in Grover Beach said to come there.

At least one friend, I heard, has lost his home, and I know of several others who had to evacuate, and my heart is full for them and all the emergency personnel who put their lives and their family lives on the edge for all of us. Now, what do I need to do?

Set priorities.

The animals: besides my three hens and two cats, I’m currently responsible for my friend-next-door’s cat and dog. OK, who needs carriers? One or two calls, and I’ve come up with an extra one or two.

Photos: I had to find a tall enough stool to get up into the high cupboards to drag down all my “vintage” (film) photos. Oh for heaven’s sakes! Why didn’t I ever organize these six boxes years ago! No time now.

Oh, and these folders in the filing cabinet of personal papers and, well, clippings of the boys in the newspapers, etc. They’re all right here so, in they go with the photos.

Clothes? Shoes? Jackets? Clean undies? Maybe just enough to get by a couple of days. But I love my tall, purple, lace-up Doc Martens boots! I can replace all this stuff.

Well, if there is time and space, here is a bag of my cool stuff. If this were an actual emergency, obviously I couldn’t afford the luxury of such a decision.

Knowing full well that most of this stuff could be replaced, I still considered what it would be like to have to settle somewhere else, a strange new place. “I’d like something to remind me of home!”

Two small paintings, a framed embroidery my mom made, the orange tree I made in kindergarten and a clay figure by each of my boys. Their Pinewood Derby cars would have to stay in the curio cabinet. I’m starting to crack myself up by this point.

It occurs to me that I have clothes and jewelry and knickknacks and other flotsam in my houses; while I use, admire and maybe even love them, sometimes I wish I weren’t burdened with them. Why not just give them away? How does one do that? Family … heirlooms? Something else to ponder.

My favorite pieces of my mom’s jewelry, a silver necklace my former mother-in-law gave me and, how can I leave mom’s ashes and those of my son’s grandfather (“Sure, honey, he can hang here with Nana while you live in Hawaii”). Uh, really? Aren’t they already. … No need to go there. …

My guitars and new drum, computers, camera and cables, a massage chair (Not taking both, nor would there be room for either table). Tools? Sigh. Would have to start over. I only have a Toyota Matrix wagon, after all. Can’t take it all.

It’s never felt so real. So … spooky. So … sad. Yet millions of people are fleeing their homes every day somewhere in the world with absolutely no place to go nor time to make these kinds of choices. Looking at the boxes piled in the corner of my bedroom, the blank spaces on my walls, the file drawer falling open void of contents … unsettling.

Thank you, thank you, thank you again to our emergency personnel and reporters who’ve kept us all abreast of the situation — Kathe Tanner, SLOStringer, and others. Thank you Mother Nature for one more chance for me to live “normally.” Thank you to those who are responsible for their actions and behaviors in not letting fires happen or are quick and able enough to respond to such outbreaks.

To friends who’ve been displaced or lost their homes, I’m here for whatever I can do as I’m sure everyone else here in town is.

I am grateful for more time to organize those photos.

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email her at, or visit her website at