Last month our community endured a mass-trauma in the form of wildfire tragedy. The flames erupted so suddenly and spread so quickly on that windy September 8th morning, and the days following will never be forgotten by Southern Oregon residents. The enormous, cascading impacts have affected all of us, the animals and plants included. They cannot be underestimated and will continue to demand our attention and accommodation for some time, beginning right about now with our intention.
I’ve been using the phrase “nearly-unprecedented” in my communications about it, but I’m realizing now that the scope and magnitude of what we’re enduring is actually and correctly characterized as truly unprecedented for us. Approximately 2,800 structures were utterly obliterated (not just burned) in the Almeda fire according to official estimates on September 18. That’s so many it’s actually hard to grok, isn’t it? If that’s just the number of structures, think of how many individuals that translates into. How many lost their businesses and workplaces? And consider all the children affected: 80% of Phoenix Elementary School and 50% of Talent Elementary School students lost their homes. That tragedy alone is staggering to comprehend. I notice my difficulty keeping numbers so large in my head when thinking about everything still going on for so many unfortunate people and families.
During a meeting recently, a woman made a casual, supportive comment about the abundance of help available. “Not surprised,” she said. Her comment was so casual and genuine that it caused me to realize right then that I wasn’t surprised either- in a very good and beautiful way. Among my feelings of tragedy and heartache, there’s also a striking grandeur mixed-in as I witness the extraordinary heroism of so, so many. All the just ordinary folks, immediately diving in and making sacrifices to help the thousands of community members suddenly thrust into such dire circumstances.
Talent Maker City, Rogue Climate, United Way, Ashland Food Co-Op, the Ashland Chamber, the Ashland Elks Lodge, and Shields Bialasik, the person who produces this very publication LocalsGuide, have been among my personal heroes so far out of the thousands of other heroes big and small who are stepping-up in a zillion creative and vital ways to help right now.
Listening to the police and emergency responders’ radio communications that tragic night September 8 gave me new insight and expanded appreciation of “professional heroes” at work on the front lines of danger and great need. Our immense thank you’s to you all!
It’s been odd to see national media correspondents on television “broadcasting live from Ashland, Oregon.” Our plight with the disaster here certainly isn’t a preferred way to make national headlines! But I’m grateful that the Rogue Valley is getting the attention of the nation, albeit just a blip. Nevertheless, it’s safe to assume that many thousands of donated dollars were channeled into our community from elsewhere because of how the media’s coverage legitimized and punctuated the magnitude and urgency of the need here.
For better AND worse; “Just think positive” is practically an official motto of the Ashland community. But I for one believe there’s a real downside to mere positivity, especially in the wake of such a calamitous loss with real-world ramifications and predicaments. I’m not the Pollyanna type typically, but I strive to be a glass-half-full kinda guy, and endeavor to be more of a realist than an ordinary optimist too. There is great opportunity here for us to shift some paradigms.
As of this writing, I’m noticing many, many seeds of rebirth and reconstruction already germinating, and I’m mostly thinking of the nonphysical ones. The recovery process is just getting underway, and there are so many factors and considerations that are foreign to most of us ordinary citizens. I’m seeing references to the lessons-learned from other communities that are already a few years ahead of us in recovering from their own similar misfortunes (e.g. Paradise, CA’s “Camp Fire” of August 2018.)
Let us all pray, and may we all hold a strong intention together, that the leaders of our communities make wise and intelligent decisions as we move forward, taking the appropriate time and resources necessary to intelligently plan and navigate our recovery and rebirth.
Jordan Pease is a 19-year resident of Ashland and Founder/Director of Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library & Event Center.