Twenty-one years old, my Webster’s Dictionary pleads with me to replace it. In this electronic age, new words grow like surburban dandelions and northwest coastal blackberries. I purchase a fat New Oxford American Dictionary. It’s more like an abbreviated encyclopedia with photos of Obama, Gore and Oprah and drawings of wombats, butterflies and derailleurs. Though I’m a pretty good “googler,” a word which is NOT in my new dictionary though its verb variation IS, there is something about a hefty book on my lap which I like.. . sensory stimulation, a palpable presence. I can feel the flimsy paper and appreciate its high tensile strength, like silk threads. I smell the ink and enjoy how one page hands me off to another. My muscles have to work searching for the right section of the alphabet as the slippery pages sometimes slide too quickly past each other or cling too tightly.
As I pursue my story about the fire that almost ate my house, I wonder about wonder. Here are a few of the definitions that fit this particular story.
noun: a remarkable person or event.
having remarkable properties or abilities.
verb: to feel admiration or amazement, to marvel.
Back to the fire: My four legged family and I return home after an easy five days spent at a friend’s. Officials claim the fire is contained. The city calms down. The fire no longer headlines in the news. City dwellers assume the danger is over. But it isn’t where I live. The fire continues to creep toward our neighborhood, national guard still monitor the people coming and going from our street, and large orange “wading” pools of water are stategically placed along our road.
In an attempt to stop the fire’s relentless northward march, officials decide to start back fires – fighting fire with fire. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of that tactic, but it must work often enough that they continue to do it. This time, an unexpected ferocious wind plays mayhem with their plan. Spot fires, forty spot fires, erupt in all directions. One of them burns in a backyard at the top of the hill in my neighborhood. Already that fire has claimed a quarter acre.
Out of the blue, literally, I’m deafened by the clattering roar of engines and the thump- thump of helicopter blades. Not one, not two, but three helicopters line up over the pond where I live.
Forty years ago the pond had been dug for two primary reasons – wildlife habitat and fire protection. I’d known when I moved here that this emptying was a possibility but I’d been reassured only a few days before that there was no way my particular pond would be used. “Too dangerous,” the fellow said. “The circumference of the opening is way too constricted by the large conifers to maneuver helicopters.”
But desperate situations require desperate measures and the helicopters come, one after the other, non stop for two full hours. The dogs and I sit out there and watch the water level go down.
The pilots maneuver by sight and feel, the co-pilot hanging out of the cockpit. No instrumentation but good old hands on savvy, edge over there, nudge over here, gentle, gentle on the throttle, threading the proverbial eye of the needle with handeye coordination and intuitive intelligence.
Blown away with wonder and gratitude for this communion with strangers, I make chocolate chip cookies to thank them – such a meager gift to express my reverence for humanity.