Their cell phones buzzed with texts and calls from friends and neighbors before the official evacuation notifications arrived, and the telltale black plumes, visible above the crowns of the pines, or across the shrub-steppe, confirmed the fires. By the time they heard sirens, they were already packing.
The things they packed were largely determined by a list, widely circulated in recent years, made mnemonically memorable by the 16th letter of the alphabet. The Six Ps — (seared into the memories of many and detailed in last week’s Mazama Valley Life column ) — informed the contents of their to-go bags, for some, waiting by the door for some, for others, still to be assembled in a frantic rush.
They packed the Six Ps first. Running through the list in their heads forced them to concentrate, and that focus granted them efficiency.
They packed bearded dragons, great Danes, and Holland Lop bunnies. They packed guinea pigs, chocolate labs, Chiweenies, mutts and litters of kittens. They packed heirloom quilts, library books they should have returned weeks ago, journals and diaries.
They packed changes of clothing, pulled from dresser drawers by friends offering helping hands. They crammed into duffel bags clean socks, underwear, shorts and warm layers they couldn’t imagine needing. They surrendered their discomfort with other people glimpsing the disorder they concealed behind chest doors, the fraying underwear, the mismatched socks, the tattered T-shirts.
They packed vaccine cards — an afterthought, a reminder of the pandemic that has been rapidly eclipsed by this fiery summer. They packed the stack of bills intended for the next day’s mailbox. They packed the mailbox key.
What they packed was partly a function of necessity, partly a function of nostalgia. They packed electronic devices, and cables, connectors, cords, adapters, splitters and chargers: a tangle of black and white — the electronic age’s viper pit. They stuffed the snarl into a tote bag, unleashing a torrent of whispered curses upon Apple. They packed children’s artwork, stuffed animals, blankies. They packed shoe boxes of old love letters.
While they packed they paused to glance skyward, their noses discerning what their eyes could not see. “Where there’s smoke,” they thought, and went back to their packing. They paused to assist others — locating a safer pasture for a horse, an extra hose, a ball hitch. They paused to answer calls and glance at texts from friends offering help, information, a place to stay — echoes of other such offers boomeranging around the valley. (“There but by the grace of God go all of us.” Or “what goes around, comes around.”)
And when they finished packing they did what Methow Valley residents have always done in the face of adversity. They carried on.
Editor’s note: Along with other residents, Ashley Lodato’s family evacuated their home after the Barnaby Fire broke out at Sun Mountain Ranch last week. Residents returned to their homes later that day after the fire was controlled. The six P’s of evacuation are: People and Pets; Papers, phone numbers and Important Documents; Prescriptions, Vitamins, and Eyeglasses; Pictures and Irreplaceable Memorabilia; Personal Computers (information on hard drive & disks);Plastic (credit cards, ATM cards, cash).