Sunday, December 3, 2017

Scene & Story - November 2017

In November I got all the photos of the beautiful fall leaves and colors that I missed so much in October. I enjoyed the many vineyards that were competing with each other for the most brilliant color; the trees were spectacular this year as well. It seems that after the terrible events in October, November was extraordinarily beautiful.

And still - the photo I chose does not reflect my favorite season, but a remains of the fires.

Of all the pictures I took in November this is the one that moved me the most. I took it in our old neighborhood that was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in the early hours of October 9th. I had picked up Kaefer from college on Thanksgiving morning, and when we arrived in Santa Rosa she said that she would like to see her childhood home - or what is left of it - right now. I know that she was nervous and we were both very quiet when we drove up the hill through the Fountaingrove neighborhood that resembles a war zone. Then we turned and drove down into our old neighborhood where we could see over the entire valley, filled with rubble and ash and lonely chimneys. We stopped at our old house and then saw that our then-neighbor from across the street was there - he always has been some kind of substitute grandpa for Kaefer. This meeting took out the dark mood of the moment, and we were happy to embrace each other and talk about the happenings of that fateful night.

It was when he left and we walked around a little bit that I saw this stone sculpture. I am positive that it wasn't there the last time I was up at the house. Someone had placed it on the remains of the brick wall of a neighbor's house. I assume the people who had lived there had found it in the rubble and put it up there. Its broken, raw beauty made such a statement in the devastation - no matter what happens, if we have each other there is love and hope.

I'm joining Sarah and León for Scene & Story.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Laughter And Joy Were Living Here

This house... a regular, completely unspectacular Ranch style house, sitting in a neighborhood nestled among the slopes of hills. Work was in walking distance and so was the elementary school.

The California poppies loved it here, too.

There was a Liquidambar next to the house that exploded in the most fantastic colors in the fall.

And so did the Crepe Myrtles in front of the house.

The mailbox was guarded by a colorful coyote and the house was decorated for Halloween and Christmas.

The backyard had a colorful garden that became more beautiful each year.

It had a pear tree with a purple clematis growing into it.

At Easter there were egg hunts in the backyard with the help of whichever neighborhood cat was residing there at that moment.

We lived a lot in that backyard. Roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, drinking wine in the evening and chatting with each other, having breakfast on the beautiful redwood deck with pancakes and homemade plum jam made by my friend Jo who had picked the fruit from our plum tree.

The plum tree is not there anymore...

We celebrated many birthdays here...

baked cookies for Christmas...

and the girl learned how to inline skate, do hula hoops with the Geek and cheered for the German soccer team.

We took photos for Christmas cards - and not all of them made it in the final selection.

In 2012 we bought our own house and left the neighborhood, but we still stayed in touch with some of our neighbors here. These were 11 very happy years when we made a lot of memories.

We will need those memories.

Last weekend, we went up to our old neighborhood. There isn't much left.

When she was little, Kaefer loved to climb this gate in front of our house.

The gate survived the fire. As did the street sign - sort of.

And the school? It completely burned down. It hurts to see what is left of it. This was Kaefer's kindergarten class.

I prefer to remember her first school this way...


The Redwood Credit Union, our local paper The Press Democrat and our State Senator Mike McGuire have set up the North Bay Fire Relief Fund where every donated dollar goes directly to aid relief efforts and help the victims of the fires.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Scene & Story - October 2017

October was the photo-less month. I was looking forward to October, to take beautiful photos of the changing leaves, of all the beautiful colors that autumn has to offer.

I got those colors - in a very different way. Oranges and reds that were roaring and eating through our town's neighborhoods so relentlessly and furiously that they didn't leave anything but rubble and ashes. And smoke. A lot of smoke.

As well as a traumatized community.

A community that lost 5% of its residences, when we already had been in a housing crisis before the fire. Lost homes, lost businesses, lost jobs, and unfortunately also lost lives.

How does a community recover from that?

We're all pulling together right now. There is a lot of kindness among people, but also a lot of anger. But for all of us there is a feeling of "we're getting through this together". These words that I photographed on the door of my local bakery say it all. You find them all over town - on doors to businesses, on lamp posts, on tree trunks.

It will take a long time to get through this, for all of us, whether we have lost a home or not. The fire has impacted all of us.

But we will rise.

I am joining Sarah and Leófor Scene and Story.


The Redwood Credit Union, our local paper The Press Democrat and our State Senator Mike McGuire have set up the North Bay Fire Relief Fund where every donated dollar goes directly to aid relief efforts and help the victims of the fires.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Living From Moment To Moment

It's been a harrowing 10 days.

Thank you to all of you who sent their love, thoughts and prayers for my town and my county. Your kind words, your checking in on Facebook and your emails have been a light in the gray thickness of the past days. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I don't even know where to start. The past 12 days are partly crystal clear and partly a mere blur. I'm not sure I remember everything in the right order. I don't know whether I will get through writing this post without crying. Everything is still very raw and we're just beginning to get out of this.

On Sunday, October 8th, we were visiting Kaefer in Davis. While it was rather calm here, it was extremely windy in Davis. The air was dusty and the dust seemed to settle everywhere. But I wasn't really worried - this is a very flat part of the country and Kaefer often told me that it is very windy.

When we drove home in the evening we took the back roads - it was such a lovely day, the forests, hills and vineyards were covered in the beautiful glow of the evening sun. We took the very same road that only a few hours later the Tubbs Fire would take. I remember how much I enjoyed this peaceful drive.

Back home we relaxed a bit, and then the wind picked up. It was pretty crazy. I remember that I once thought that this wind would feed a fire, but I still wasn't worried because this is California and we have wildfires every year. They don't get into urban areas.

We went to bed and slept well until around 2:00 am when the house phone rang. It is in another room and we knew that we weren't quick enough to pick it up, so we let it go. The Geek went back to sleep, but I was a bit restless. I smelled smoke. So I got up, walked around the house - everything was fine - and looked outside - nothing but darkness. I went back to bed. It was 2:22 am by then - I remember that so clearly because I looked at the clock by the Geek's bedside and loved the combination of  the numbers. Then I noticed that there were cars driving by our house, one after the other. That was unusual. This is a very quiet neighborhood, and so many cars at this late (or early) hour didn't bode well. I also heard popping sounds over and over. So I got up again because I thought it might be a good idea to check my cell phone. I saw a text message from my close friend Lyz which said "Are you guys safe from the fire?".

That's when I realized we were in trouble.

I woke the Geek, and we went downstairs, turned on the local radio station and heard what was going on. The neighborhoods on the hill, Fountaingrove, were burning. The cars that I heard were coming down from there (it's just up the hill from us). The fire was burning up smaller neighborhoods at the slopes and bottom of the hill, then jumped the six lanes (!) highway and burnt down another entire neighborhood, Coffey Park. There was no stopping the fire.

I grabbed our "grab and go" box and we packed our bags with some clothes and things we deemed important, sleeping bags, and put them right by the front door. I rolled the car out of the garage and parked it in the driveway. We were ready to go any minute if they told us we had to leave.

Then I went outside to take a few pictures. The photos are all blurry because I was shaking, but I still decided to include them.

Right across our street:

And up the hill a bit further down the road:

Then I went back upstairs and took a shot out of our bedroom window:

We constantly heard the popping sounds when transformers or propane gas tanks blew up. I remember that I ran to those of our neighbors' houses that had no light on to wake them up. We told the elderly couple next door to pack a bag and put it in the car. Just in case...

At daybreak there was thick smoke, an eerie light with no chance for the sun to get through.

At seven in the morning our phone rang. It was my friend G who had to evacuate at 1:00 am and had been sitting in the Safeway parking lot since two in the morning. She came to our house where we fed her and brewed a big pot of coffee. We would need it.

From then on, things start to get blurry. The three of us were glued to both the TV and the local radio station. One of the stations had to stop airing when the fire burnt the trees in the backyard of their building. Later they would be back on the air, just working with a generator and some very basic equipment, but they informed us all day, every day.

We saw the first pictures of Coffey Park - devastation (the picture is in my last post). It was hard to believe our eyes. I have friends and aquaintances in Coffey Park. It is a normal middle class neighborhood. They had to leave in the middle of the night, often with only 10 or 15 minutes to spare. What do you take when you have to leave so suddenly? For many it was only the clothes on their backs and some important papers and documents. Some didn't even get that.

They not only lost their house, but their home with everything in it.

Later that day Kaefer's old kindergarten teacher posted photos of what used to be her elementary school:

This was the first time that I cried.

We used to live very close to that school. I walked Kaefer to school every morning, it was just a 10-15 minutes walk through our old neighborhood. We knew so many people here - we had lived there for 11 years before we bought our current home. We went trick-or-treat, sold Girl Scout cookies, had block parties, chatted with neighbors walking by while I was working in the front garden.

All gone.

G stayed with us. She was shaky - she is 75 years old and only two years ago lost her husband, and now, it seemed, her home, too (we would later found out that by some kind of miracle her house survived). Lyz, who had sent me that email in the night, had lost her home, in G's neighborhood. The neighborhoods on Fountaingrove were gone. A retirement mobile home park was gone. Two hotels and the old round barn and many businesses were gone. Two hospitals were evacuated. Nurses were transporting patients in their personal cars with the IV sticking out the window.

The following days were mere chaos. The amount of misinformation was immense. We heard of more and more friends, colleagues and aquaintances who had lost their homes. We learned that at one time there were 17 fires burning (or even more, I can't remember) all over Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino Counties. The newspaper reported about the fires for days - and we really weren't interested in anything else.

But there were inspiring stories as well. The owner of Safari West, a wildlife preserve, saved all his animals while his own home was burning down. A cat was rescued from a drain (and is now in the UC Davis veterinary center). There were a lot of stories of true heroes.

For the first couple days we didn't dare to separately leave the house. We only have one car, which was packed with our important belongings, and we were absolutely certain that the mandatory evacuation order would come when one of us was away in the car. So we did everything together. We weren't the only ones who drove around town with a fully packed car - everybody seemed to do that. Some of them actually lived in their car because they didn't want to go to one of the many evacuation shelters. We didn't sleep particularly well; I was getting up several times during the night to check that there were no new fires in our vicinity. We ate a lot of chocolate and drank wine (we were not going to leave the wine for the fire!). We didn't make any plans because we had no idea where we would be the next day. We were living from moment to moment. On Wednesday night we received the order for voluntary evacuation. I remember we were sitting in our neighbor's house, drinking wine when the Nixle alert came (we had signed up for every alert system that was available for our area). The women became restless, the men were cool... there were some very tense moments. In the end, almost the entire corner of my neighborhood decided to stay. We slept in shifts. I spent the night on the couch in the living room to make sure that I would hear the police when they were banging on the door.

Fortunately this call never came.

One day a German friend of ours who had lost his home called us. His Koi fish had survived, but the person who was supposed to bring them to a safe pond didn't turn up. So the Geek and I jumped into the car to rescue his fish. This may sound weird, but if you have lost everything, those fish are everything you have. The fish were in a huge bucket, and they were wasting away. They needed oxygen. So the Geek, practical as he is, took a protector sheet from our folder with the documents, rolled it up and used it as a straw, blowing air into the bucket. There we were by the side of the road right next to a burnt down neighborhood, trying to rescue fish. Completely crazy and insane, but these were crazy and insane times. The fish, by the way, made it.

Everywhere people were helping each other. The community really pulled together. Yes, there were some bad apples in the form of looters, but the kindness of people was overwhelming. No one in this community has been unscathed by this inferno. Everybody wears some kind of scar from this disaster, some bigger, some smaller.

On Friday evening our evacuation order was lifted. There was still a big fire burning and I was still restless. And indeed, on Saturday morning at 4:40 my cell phone exploded with Nixle alerts. There was a new mandatory evacuation order for some neighborhoods to the east. And this is what it looked like from our bedroom window:

Fire and smoke. I was rattled.

The air had been bad all week. Whenever we had to go outside we wore our N95 masks. We couldn't open our windows. It was hot and stinky. Ashes were raining to the ground. But everybody was still helping - donating clothes and food, collecting school supplies. Everybody stepped up.

In between there were sparks of humor. The Tubbs fire was renamed to Chubbs fire because we had all been stress eating. The statue of General Vallejo in Sonoma was wearing a N95 mask.

People were partying. I now fully understand the people in London during the Blitz who were partying like there was no tomorrow. And for many there wasn't.

For quite some time we didn't know whether we still had a job. There were rumors that the Geek's work was completely destroyed (the company is smack in the middle of the fire zone). Someone said my high school had burned down. Days later we found out that none of  this was true. While it will take a long time for the Geek's work to return to their damaged site, he can work remote from home or go to the building that they have rented as an interim solution. My school started today with a staff meeting, and on Friday the students will return. About 145 students in my school alone have lost their homes.

The fires are almost completely contained. Entire neighborhoods are destroyed. Over 40 people have perished in the fires. 6800 structures have burnt down, most of them homes. Now we're moving into the hard time of rebuilding and recovery. It will take a very long time.

And we will never  forget the true heroes in this disaster.


The Redwood Credit Union, our local paper The Press Democrat and our State Senator Mike McGuire have set up the North Bay Fire Relief Fund where every donated dollar goes directly to aid relief efforts and help the victims of the fires.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Firestorm

My dear friends,

my town is burning. While I write this, fires rage without any containment. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations are currently under way. Several neighborhoods like the one in the photo above have been completely destroyed within a few hours. The devastation is incredible and I'm not able to grasp it right now. It is heartbreaking and I have no words.

We are sitting on packed bags, ready to evacuate any time. I don't know when I will be able to blog the next time since I don't know what the coming days will look like. Our home might be safe. We might have to leave. No one knows.

I only know that the wind is shifting and picking up, and that is dangerous.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Scene & Story - September 2017

The month of September was very unusual for me in that regard that I didn't take a lot of photos. I was so busy with work, especially the beginning of the school year at the German School, that I simply didn't have the time and leisure to grab my camera and go on a photo excursion.

But just a couple days ago I put my macro lens on my Canon 7D and headed outside in the garden to see what was left so late in the season. I had thought that my Spanish Lavender still looked pretty good, and when I turned my camera to it this Fiery Skipper landed on its flower. This butterfly is a rather jumpy little guy who doesn't sit anywhere for a long time, but I was lucky to capture him (or her?) on a few images. This year I have seen quite a big amount of them as well as other butterflies and lots of bees which tells me that my garden is a sought after habitat for them with just the right plants for them to survive. I have mainly native plants and a very few "water suckers" in an otherwise low water garden. By now I am at a point where I offer a refuge not only for butterflies and bees, but there are also a lot of birds who enjoy the nectar and the seeds of the flowers.

I am joining Sarah and León for Scene and Story.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's a Wild World

A visit to Yellowstone isn't possible without seeing a lot of wildlife. This national park is home to so many animals, and for many of them it is a peaceful refuge where they are not hunted and killed for whatever reason (never mind that they were here first and this IS their habitat which we took away from them).

There is an abundance of bison - but of course it doesn't come close to the numbers when bison roamed freely this country. They are impressive animals, and while I love them, I always make sure to keep a very safe distance from them. They SEEM to be lazy and docile, but these are wild and dangerous animals. Everywhere in the park there are signs that warn people not to approach them (but of course there are too many humans who'd love to receive the Darwin award) and that you should use caution around them.

They are big and heavy, and at the same time they are incredibly cute. How can you resist such a sweet face?

Or this guy that we saw early in the morning in the Lamar Valley after we had seen the wolf pack.

What I love best, however, is watching a bison taking a dust bath. They do it with gusto!

Yellowstone is famous for its bears, both grizzlies and black bears. We saw both. This black bear checked out the area next to the road in the Lamar Valley (and again, some people were way too close).

Elk can be found all over the park - the population is huge, and it's good that there are several wolf packs in the park that keep the numbers limited. Often wolves and bears share the carcass of an animal. Nothing goes to waste here.

You find signs of the wildlife everywhere if you keep your eyes open.


black bear


Seeing wildlife makes me happy and is always an absolute highlight for me. So often we only see the "big" wildlife, but it was this little guy that gave me the biggest delight - a curious weasel we saw on one of our hikes through the beautiful meadows of Yellowstone. Isn't s/he adorable?