For the last week, we've watched Bastrop burn:
BASTROP, Texas -- The massive wildfire is now 70 percent contained. Tuesday morning, firefighters cleared areas for more residents to return home.Police removed the barricades at 10 a.m. for the neighborhoods of ColoVista South, Wilderness Ridge, Harmon Road, Cottletown Road, Bastrop State Park, Beuscher State Park and Park Road 1C South.Inside many of those areas, the ground is burned completely. If feet don't crunch, they sink. The dirt across Bastrop is now like fine sand. Pine trees that once stood full and tall are now bare and charred.
34,000 acres, over $200 million in damages, over 1400 homes, 2 people…gone. One of those homes? My mother's house, the one where we built so many happy memories -- my daughter's second birthday, hurricane evacuations, cousins playing and doing punk hairdos with spray in hair color, our dog casing the yard for errant squirrels while waiting for a hike, Easter egg hunts with plenty of spots to hide eggs under pine needles, sitting on the deck reading, Mother's Day photos framed on my wall taken on the patio, a series of ranunculus photos that were among the first photos I ever sold, maneuvering backwards down her curvy long drive, the feeling of home and holiday we had each time we saw the big white mailbox at the end of her drive that signaled the end of our journey and time for family and fun.
She wasn't living there at the time. She'd leased her home to another family, so it was that couple who lost all their things, a lifetime of photos and music albums the first they named as lost. But we lost that house, that place.
Don't worry, people said, your mother has her other house and she can always rebuild, it's just things.
Oh no, it's not just things, it's a place. It's a place lost, a neighborhood lost, a community lost. Things, yes, they can be replaced, but a place cannot.
Odds are whatever is rebuilt next door will not be the green-trimmed log cabin where two elderly sisters lived, nor will it include their brave, exquisite little garden working to survive under such a canopy of pine trees that dripped daily spiky threats on the fragile flowers.
A canopy of trees now gone, land laid flat and bare for years and years now.
Quirky Tahitian Village, a strange Polynesian paradise themed neighborhood with homes of local stone and brick incongruously resting on streets named Mauna Kea Lane that wind and curve and rise and fall in the hilly country. Gone.
The Spanish hacienda, with full stucco wall around it, that sat arrogantly in a verdant lot surrounded by towering trees rather than dusky mountains and sand. Gone.
"Will they rebuild, do you think?" an older man at a local donation center asked me on Saturday.
Such a question. So many just assume. They think, with sympathy and good-intention, that the phoenix of this small, tight-knit community will rise from the ashes.
"I don't know," I said, truthfully. "My mother won't. A lot of her neighbors were elderly, a lot didn't have insurance. I just don't know. I imagine a lot of people will, if they can. I think a lot will decide this is it, a sign, or something, and they'll move somewhere else, maybe to a retirement home or nearer to kids."
He nodded, "I thought so. Yeah, I thought so. It's too bad, to lose their place."
I nodded too, my eyes stinging, a hot hole in my upper chest. He understood. I understood. It's gone. It will never be the same. The biggest loss of all is the place.
Please donate to American Red Cross, who has been such a help and savior for so many in Bastrop, and beyond. They helped in places of fire, flood, hurricane and storm. All at the same time. Thank you.