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May. 5th, 2016 | 12:54 pm

Fort McMurray is burning.

A wildfire rages at the edges of town. Right now. Right now my acquaintances are checking in on Facebook, I’m safe, I’m safe. Right now the fire has become a “crown fire,” the tops of conifers blazing, perverse Christmas trees blossoming with flames a hundred metres high, sparks crossing first the Athabasca River, then the Clearwater River and Highway 63, the only road out of town.

When you drive to Fort Mac, you gas up at the north edge of Edmonton, turn onto 63, and laugh and smile at the sign a few kilometers later, LAST GAS FOOD SERVICES FOR 250 KM. I’m guessing at the kilometres—I remember the sign, but Google Maps won’t give me directions right now. Google images won’t give me the sign in the first few screens, and I can’t scroll through any more action-movie images of propane tanks exploding in front of burning trees.

It’s not like an action movie.

No-one is billed above the title—no-one has a guarantee of getting out. Plans for a sequel are uncertain.

Perhaps the theatre, where my circus company did our adults-only show, is burning. Perhaps the college parking lot where we did the outdoor family-friendly show is peeling up in great sheets of asphalt rolling on itself like poorly-laid contact paper in the bottom of a drawer. Maybe the hotel’s gone now. The three casinos. The giant sports arena complex where we played New Year’s Eve.

Almost everyone is out—unlike Key West natives facing down hurricanes, Canadians politely leave when asked. Everyone has gone north, in a slow, bizarre recessional of bumper-to-bumper traffic and cars stalling out from lack of gas. Two of the gas stations in town have burned; the lines were long enough on the others to weigh, gas up and burn in town, or run out and burn on the highway?

Right now it is my borrowed tragedy. The event over which I have no influence, no control, and which only peripherally affects me, but nonetheless makes me weep when the pictures come on.

I stand in another theatre over two thousand miles away and find my light. I wait patiently for the technical director to call “OK, next cue please!” so I can move. There is a lot of thinking time, and I wonder about my own recessional. My house in Kalamazoo, full of boxes, some unopened since moving there in 1998. My mother’s spare closet in Florida, full of formal dresses—prom, debut, New Year’s Eve. Too nice to throw away, no longer useful. My home in Dubai, where secondhand books are stacking up, where I really should let go of the shoes I replaced.

Twenty minutes to pack. You can take what you can carry. Not family photos—my computer covers that. I no longer have pets. I would leave the circus equipment behind, and that’s a bittersweet relief, knowing it no longer matters. Ten minutes, perhaps, fire or flood or cataclysm licking the edges of the city. Revolution is not unlikely. Call it five minutes. Fortunately, I’m almost always packed anyway. Grab the carry-on with clothes and bath stuff and the book I’m reading now and the book I’m writing now and my Ganesha icon (“If you care about it, put it in your carry-on” I chant before every flight). Sling on my laptop bag with notebook, headphones, purse, cash, cards, passport.

I would grab my second passport. And my wedding dress, blue and simple and actually wearable again.

And then I’d run.

Back in the basement in Kalamazoo, I survey still-packed boxes and old costumes and the hats I used to look good in. What if there was a fire? I ask myself. Would you bother to replace this, or would you keep the insurance money?

It’s not as easy as it sounds on paper. But I do set out bags and boxes, a little at a time, make a pile for Goodwill and one for trash, and start throwing things away.


What would you take with you?


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Comments {6}


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from: bleodswean
date: May. 8th, 2016 10:27 pm (UTC)

Disasters, rightfully so, bring these sorts of contemplations to the surface of WesternCiv people. And I think your reaction is good. I think it's full of humanism, as is this entry. The fire is just insane. And terrible. And impossible to grasp in its entirety.

I've never heard this before - my borrowed tragedy - and I like it VERY MUCH!!!

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: May. 9th, 2016 06:59 am (UTC)

I read a story about that area of Canada in "Outside," and how much destruction the oil sands mining was wreaking on the area-- much of which is reservation land or abuts it. The fire increases the injury caused to that whole area by oil mining.

That question of what you would take when you have to leave quickly and suddenly is the kind of thing you can help pondering-- if only because someday you might need to know. But it's so often the same priorities-- people, pets, photographs, and important mementos. Everything else can be replaced.

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(no subject)

from: millysdaughter
date: May. 9th, 2016 05:12 pm (UTC)

Almost everyone is out—unlike Key West natives facing down hurricanes, Canadians politely leave when asked.
Yes. When we flooded -- 25% of our town was displaced for months, 11,000 people evacuated -- people elsewhere said "it could not have been that bad, because nobody was killed"
They did not die in the flood waters, because they followed orders to evacuate. Since they did not drown in flood waters, the deaths of displaced persons were not considered "related" to the flood...

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from: prog_schlock
date: May. 9th, 2016 09:27 pm (UTC)

We have hurricanes and tsunami out here that occasionally require us to ponder evacuation and I know what I'd bring. My cats. Cat food. Kitty littler. Litter box. Basically, that's about all. If time and I could carry it, my laptop, but even that I could give up.

Its funny, I arrived here in Hawaii with two small boxes in 1989 and now feel like I need a storage unit to hold all my stuff. I think I could lose all of my stuff and feel more relief than agony.

As long as the cats, the wife and I are all ok.

I am so sorry for everything that is happening in Alberta. We'll be visiting Toronto and Vancouver this summer. I hope that fires are out soon and that people can start rebuilding their lives.

Oh, man, this is the song I thought of.

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(no subject)

from: murielle
date: May. 9th, 2016 10:40 pm (UTC)

Yes, the area has been evacuated successfully. For that we can all be grateful. Even those who went north have been relocated to safety. There will be criticism for the way things were handled. There will be recriminations. There have even been those who have stated publicly that this devastation and displacement was deserved because McMurray was primarily an oil boom city.

Thanks so much for writing this piece. I get knots in my stomach over this, and over what will become of our province in light of it all.

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(no subject)

from: drwex
date: May. 10th, 2016 08:34 pm (UTC)

I was always taught the "4 Ps" for fire - people, pets, prescriptions, papers. In that order. It's a metaphor for "from least replaceable to most replaceable."

I have some artwork that I would try to save. I have ridiculous amounts of memorabilia that I know I wouldn't/couldn't save. I don't hold onto objects that aren't in some way meaningful, except for commodity items like books, music, clothing. So maybe some jewelry after that.

It's interesting that you mention Ganesha. We've been watching Sense8 and one of the characters there has been talking about her relationship to that god and it has reminded me of a lover who also worshipped him, despite being a New England white girl. I miss her, too.

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