Dear Elisa,

It is Sunday, October 28, 2007, a beautiful day. I look outside my window and it is beautiful. I see the ducks in the pond; my horses are grazing and I see and hear the birds that are snacking on the bird seed that I put out for them. They are unaffected by the events of the past week. They have no memories.

In looking back, through my memory, it almost seems like nothing happened. I guess it’s because in reality nothing did. I am here and it is now. But I am going to try and relate to you, and for me, what did happen so that I can rejoice in the present even more.

There are so many details I could go into but I will only tell you the things that led up to what I call my test.

We heard of the fire around 1:00 pm on Sunday, October 21, 2007. We have many fires in this area and generally are not directly affected by them. Just the normal warnings to be aware there is a fire east of us. The Santa Ana winds are strong and there is always a possibility of real danger but usually it just passes by us.

This time though, there seemed to be more of a chance that it would come through our valley and possibly quite close to us. I started moving horses to the center areas of our ranch just to have them out of harms way – out from under the oaks, away from buildings and into open areas such as arenas and green pastures. I figured it was mostly a waste of time but also felt that if the fire hit us, we would not have to move them during a time when we would need to be doing other things such as putting out fires. I think there was something inside that told me to do this because I had never done so much preparing in the past.

There were 8 of us at the barn near the horse boarding area. It was about 6:00 pm when we started seeing the glow coming over the hills. There is a 100 acre ranch to the east of us that is mostly dead grass fields. We figured it would be a while before it crawled across that field to us and we would have plenty of time to see it coming. Then about 15 minutes later, we started to see flames on those hills. I know now that we were seeing houses burning. It was just getting dark.

I took a quick ride in my truck from the east end of the ranch over to the main house and my office/guest house just because I was a little antsy. While I was driving back over the short bridge that goes over the creek that runs through our property, I noticed the first sign of burning embers flying by. The wind had picked up considerably – about 50mph by now.

I turned my truck to the left to go over to the house (Mike and Susan’s house) on the North East side of the ranch just to check to see if any of the embers were hitting that house yet. Our “plan” was to head over to that house if and when the embers reached us. We would put out spot fires there as well as defend the barn on the South East side of the property where we had cattle and hay and where the boarded horses were. I turned my truck to head in the direction of Mike and Susan’s house. I don’t know why, but I hesitated just a second and then decided to go on to the house. As I hit the gas pedal, I heard a loud crack and the old oak tree that stands at the intersection came down… just like that no more than 2 feet in front of my truck and now blocking the driveway to that house. Humm, that was close… interesting… I had never seen that before!

Still thinking we had so much time to stay ahead of the fire, I backed up a few feet and turned right to where the rest of the group was waiting at the South East end of the ranch to let them know they needed to bring a chainsaw over and clear the now blocked driveway to Mike and Susan’s house.

The whole time, I never felt any fear. Never felt any panic. I was simply doing what needed to be done under the given circumstances. Just doing… Not more than 10 minutes had passed since I went on my little “check” drive around the ranch.

When I got to the Barn where everyone was, all Hell had broken loose. They were all up and moving. It was like someone had kicked the ant pile and everyone was scrambling. I stopped and stepped out of my truck to find out what the “new” plan was and felt the gust of heat-filled wind hit me. Embers were everywhere. The wind had picked up even more. Henry was in the water truck heading to where the hay stack had started catching fire. Mike and Susan, who live in the house now blocked by the oak tree, were on foot heading in that direction. The others were simply scrambling. My goal was to get back over the bridge and over to the main house at the center of the ranch to keep watch over that area as well as the giant hay stack and cattle on the west end of the ranch. I was to let Henry know if there was a need for the water truck over there.

I turned my truck around and headed back towards the bridge. I looked to my left down the isle of horses and saw the old ranch dog Slim limping along trying to figure out where everyone was going. He is not fast and could not see anyone since the winds were now gusting at about 60 – 70 mph. (I found out the mph of the winds later). I pulled my truck down that isle next to him and I thought that somehow I could get one of those adrenalin boosts of energy and just pick up this 100lb old dog and toss him in my truck – NOT! One of the boarders saw me struggling and stopped his truck and horse trailer and I screamed above the wind and he came over to help me. We could barely open and then shut the truck door. Still no fear… just doing. Ok, dog is safe with me, head over the bridge – NOT.

I backed my truck out of the isle between the corrals and turned into the direction of the bridge. The banks are about 20 feet going into the creek off either side of the bridge.

This is the part that I found so amazing. I started forward and within seconds, lost all visibility. I am not talking heavy fog or dust lost, I am talking about I could only see inside my truck. The windshield and the windows to the side and back were as far as I could see. It was as if I was under dirty water. I could not tell how far I had gone – where the beginning of the bridge was or if I was there. It could be right, left, back or forward. I did not know. I also knew my truck was moving for some time while I was trying to feel my way across. If I put the truck in reverse, my signal went off that I was backing into something… I was a little confused at first but realized that it was the wind and debris blowing around me that was setting off the back up warning. I put the truck in forward and waited for a second before I realized I must not have my foot on the break. I was moving forward – but my foot was on the break… it was the wind moving me. The wind had grown to 90+ mph.

I thought I needed to move. I thought I needed to get out. I thought I was going to run off or be blown into the bank and into the creek bed to be found the next day burned up with this old dog. I thought I needed to THINK of something. I watched the show on my windshield. I tried to see SOMETHING to let me know where I was. I thought “I am going to be found dead along with this hundred year old dog”… you know the story, stopped to save the family pet and they both perished in the fire… how sad. “If she had just not stopped for the dog, she would be alive today.” I thought, and I thought, THINK!! My thinking lasted for all of 15 seconds.

I looked back at the old dog Slim. He wasn’t thinking at all. Then I looked. I looked at the windshield show. I looked at me. I watched me. I watched my thoughts. I questioned my thoughts. I watched. I was suddenly calm. I thought of the books I have been reading. I thought of the lessons I had learned. I thought of you Elisa. I thought of Byron Katie. I thought of Eckhart Tolle. No kidding. Here I am in my truck “centering”. I asked myself, “What are you feeling?” I cracked me up. I actually smiled and shook my head and cracked me up. “What do you think I’m feeling?????!!!!!”

Then seriously, asked me to feel what I was feeling. Ok, afraid? No not really. Should you do something? No, not yet. I could not do anything. So, wait. Ok. So I waited, and I watched, not only the show on my windshield (I think I saw the wicked witch of the west fly by) and I looked at Slim and past Slim to the show on the back windshield. I watched my “self” and waited. I watched and then I saw lights. A flicker of head lights for just a second. I watched where they had come from and barely saw the truck and trailer of the guy who helped me load Slim. He blinked his lights at me and turned and I followed closely. I was really hoping he knew where he was going! We headed to the arena area that was open space and to where we knew there was nothing that could catch fire. We were safe, Ol’ Slim and me. I looked at Slim again. He was just along for the ride.

This part is funny. You’ll love this. I had my cell phone with me. My good friend Kathy called. I recently bought her the book “Loving What Is”. She is a real worrier. Always thinking ahead and behind. We talk a lot about where I have been and where I am now and she totally sees the difference in me. When she called me, she asked if I was ok. I said yes. She asked where I was and what was going on. I told her. When she asked specifics about my home and dog (no, I was not sure if my house was on fire or if my beloved dog Stella was in my office burning up).

She asked again if I was ok and I said yes. She asked what I was going to do and I told her I was going to wait until I had an opportunity to do something. I said, “I am going to just be right now”. We both started cracking up. She said, “I’ve got to start reading that book again!” We kept in touch by cell phone until I could see enough to move.

The winds finally subsided enough to let me across the bridge – I can tell you I gunned it across when I saw the chance. And for the next 48 hours we fought the fire. For the next 48 hours I waited and watched as each of the minutes of that 48 hours ticked by. Always aware of exactly where I was at each of those minutes. I was there for Henry and his brother Mike to wash their burning eyes and to finally put Henry to bed. My hands were busy holding the hands of the ones who were afraid and to pet my sweet Stella dog. I didn’t project what might happen but simply watched what was happening. We saved most of the Barn. We saved all of the houses and animals and hay.

On the opposite side, I watched friends and family here fall completely apart. I mean, lay on the floor and cry and pass out because of the stress they put upon themselves projecting what could be happening; trying to fix it when there was nothing to fix. What might happen? They exhausted themselves from the inside out. It was sad to see, as it will be sad to watch in the coming months people that lost their homes in this fire come to grips with it. I will do what I can for them when I can.

Some of the most amazing things that I do and don’t feel; I am not angry, sad, frustrated or anything. I am simply joyful. I watched the animal we call fire live its life through our ranch. Devouring what was easy to devour and moving on when we put up our fight. The Wind and Fire were living, breathing entities with a purpose. It seemed to be their short time to be. They were going to take advantage of it. They devoured hundreds of houses and thousands of acres of land in Ramona and then headed down to Rancho Bernardo and beyond to the coastal communities. It was a very hungry fire. I look around the hillsides around my ranch and see only 6 homes where there were once 15 or more.

Wednesday, I wend for a ride on my horse up to the top of my burned ranch just to see. I was anxious to see it. I was not sad, mad or anything. I was just seeing it. It is black, dirty and different. I don’t see ugly. I see what it is. It is my home after the fire. I am amazed. I am content. I am filled with joy.

I am sitting in my office looking out my window at the horses grazing, the ducks on the pond and the birds snacking on the birdseed I put out for them. Life is good. I see that now more than ever. Not because of what I have gone through but because I do. How can I not?

Thank you for all you have taught me and all you have shared with me.

Love,

Vickie

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