The devastating fires in the North Bay have forced thousands to leave their homes and no doubt face the awful dilemma Adam Shaw confronted recently, as told in this Perspective originally aired August 15th.
I love beautiful things, and my house is full of them; paintings, sculpture, musical instruments, and art books to rival a library. I’m a painter and my studio is at my home, so much of the inventory of my life’s work is here.
I live surrounded by vineyards and trees, in a pastoral and soul-satisfying environment. I feel so lucky and hardly a day goes by when I don’t kiss the ground.
Recently, I was driving on a twisty back road when suddenly, fire trucks and emergency vehicles were screeching by. I was 10 minutes from my house and the air was rapidly filling with smoke. I turned around to race home. The fire was on the next ridge, sirens were blaring and Cal Fire planes were crossing the sky. Although the wind was blowing in the other direction, if they changed my house could be gone, just like that.
In that moment, all I cared about was saving my cat, Lila, and my dog, Moe. I knew I couldn’t save my work, so in an instant I let it all go. I thought of those people you see on the news after a devastating fire takes everything they owned. They seem grateful and calm, which always mystified me. But on this day I understood it: Nothing mattered, not even my work, only my animals. Only life mattered. No things mattered. None of the irreplaceable objects I cherished couldn’t be replaced. I just wanted a guitar, so that if I did lose everything at least I could play the Blues. So I threw a guitar in my back seat, and got my animals and was ready to drive off and watch my house burn. I felt so peaceful and focused and free. Although there was time, I didn’t load up suitcases with as much stuff as I could grab.
I just let it all go.
Fortunately, this turned out to be an exercise because thanks to the incredible work of Cal Fire and the local firefighters here in the Valley, the fire was soon completely contained, not even a blip on the radar of all the devastating fires that rage through California and the West.
But for me, this is the day I became a monk. And a Blues man.
With a Perspective, I’m Adam Shaw.
Adam Shaw is an artist living in Sonoma County.