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Old men at a funeral procession

Almolonga, Guatemala, 2008

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Street in Quetzaltenango

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 2008

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On the road to Xela

I’m in Guatemala on an exploration trip. There will be projects in the future, but for now we’re just trying to find out what’s going on.

After an overnight flight to Guatemala City, I made my way across town to a bus headed to Quetzaltenango. Then I got lucky to find a seat in the back — right next to the bathroom, not always a good strategy, but in this case great as I had a window (that could be opened) as we bounced our way 5 hours through the mountains.

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After the fire

When the flames came over the top of the ridge a few weeks ago, I was in the middle of cleaning out the storage shed. Folders full of financial paperwork on one side, diaries from my childhood on the other, I was simplifying. Mostly in my mind was this: what can I get rid of?

A few hours later, when it became clear that the fire was going to continue to burn through the night and possibly right down into my canyon, my thoughts began to shift to this: what should I save?

I went first to the obvious — the hard drives and the important papers. In retrospect, I understand the hard drives, but if the house had burned down, I’m not sure that I would have cared that I had saved my old tax forms and bank statements. But these were the first things I tossed in the back of the car.

Then things got more complicated. I began to walk slowly through my house. It was almost like touring a museum. Look at something, some object, pick it up, this carved giraffe from Africa or this jar of sand from the Swiss Alps, consider the stories, imagine its absence, weigh it against everything else in the house, make a decision. The giraffe stays. The sand comes with me.

The diaries from my childhood came too. How else am I to know who I am? The box of negatives from before the digital age overwhelmed us all. I packed a small bag of clothing and toiletries. No sense in having to wear the same T-shirt and jeans for a week if I don’t have to. The laptop, which these days is my file cabinet, correspondence, creative expression, and connection to the world, the laptop came along.

In a burst of faith, I watered the lawn.

It was dark by then and huge walls of flame were beginning to wrap around the canyon. Out my window the hillside across from me was deep orange with the reflected light of the fire.

But there was still time and room in my car. What else? The big things were ruled out. No furniture or appliances. Also no books. If you start to take one, they’ll all want to come along. The same with the music. I took photos of the bookcase and the CD rack.

From there the process started to get silly. That sleeping bag was expensive. And it’s comfy. The sleeping bag comes along. And this pair of shoes. My circles around the house started to get faster and more frenetic. With time and a little motivation, the miser in me begins to come out. 

Finally, just after I caught myself tossing a wine corker (expensive, beautifully crafted) into the car, I realized the slippery slope that I was on. Another half hour and I’d be hitching my car up to the house and trying to drag it down the hill. Then what would I have gained?  Nothing but the same headaches with a crappier view.

I realized then that the fire was doing me a favor. I was seeing more clearly. I was discovering what was most important. I was letting go of what wasn’t. I’ll confess that there was a small part of me that hoped that the fire would come right on down the canyon and take it all.

It didn’t. From where I’m sitting this morning, I can see the blackened hillside where it burned so ferociously. Unpacking the car was harder for some reason than packing was. The giraffe and the jar of sand are reunited again — for how long, I don’t know, but the giraffe is keeping a wary eye on me, our true relationship now revealed — and the clarity of flame exchanged for the ambiguity of life. But the lessons have stayed with me. After the fire, you can’t help but see things a little differently.

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Aftermath

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We went for a run in the woods on a rainy day

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Here’s a nice picture of some poppies

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There’s a fire in the canyon

I’ve lived in Southern California for a long time now, a place where natural disasters are the next best thing to sporting events (which are the next best thing to car chases) for creating community and stimulating conversation between strangers. But I’ve never really had firsthand experience with the whole wildfire genre until yesterday/last night/today. We’re on something of an evacuatory lockdown here in the canyon, but I’ve decided to stick around owing to the difficulty of getting back in once you leave. And so I hung out this morning with some of the fire crews (with their permission, of course) to keep tabs on the progress and to appreciate the amazing abilities of the helicopter pilots.

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From a recent trip south of the border

Tijuana vendor, taken with Diana camera, Fuji 400H

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The Back Roads Of Utah…

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…are definitely worth the time. Yes, I’ve heard this for years. Now I know firsthand.

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Joshua Tree

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I went to Joshua Tree with my favorite brother last weekend. Despite the fact that it was supposed to rain, we had great weather, if a little windy. Neither of us really got enough of it so I think we’ll go again this weekend. Of course, there will be pictures…

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A Tribe Of Yucca

Yucca Tree Tribe

Red Rock Canyon State Park, California

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Mt. Shasta: Why Driving In Northern California Is Nice

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I had been wandering for a long time in the tall timber when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw this. It surprised me. How it got behind me, I’m not sure. I was tempted to think that it had moved, or was sneaking up on me. But, in my experience, the mountains sit still most of the time (my faith is clearly not quite as big as a mustard seed). I’ve decided it was a miracle. Which explains it nicely, I’d say.

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Open Space

Ash Creek Wildlife Area, Big Valley, California

My house is among trees and I’ve taken a liking to the grasslands. I’m hoping to resolve this conflict before long, but in the meantime I’m taking walks in places like this. The dog likes it, especially when it is cool and damp outside and when there’s a ball to chase. I like it because I can see in all directions which is good for watching the sun rise and set, tracking the wind as it approaches, and lying down quietly and listening to stillness of the open space.

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Smith Rock State Park

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Lassen National Forest

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