How will I remember 2018? Fighting fires…
The Thomas fire circled around Ojai, CA and our orange grove in December of 2017 and the aftermath, which went well into early 2018, was soot and smoke and heartbreak for many who lost their homes. We were very lucky in that we only experienced soot and smoke. However, everyone in Upper and Lower Ojai was affected either directly or indirectly by the ferocity of the Thomas fire, and at a few points in time it seemed as though the entire Ojai Valley was burning. After the evacuation order was lifted, we drove onto our land and saw live fires on hillsides on three sides with multiple plumes of black smoke snaking up into the sky. The air was still so filled with ash and smoke that we all had to wear respirators just to walk on our land. However, despite the terrible air quality and a thick layer of ash on every surface, we came away unscathed. We felt guilty to be so lucky when so many others suffered major property losses. Still, we were grateful.
In mid-January, we had our second bout with fire. I received a call from our tenant in Fort Worth who informed me that there had been a fire in the laundry room of our condo there. The good news was that no one was hurt and the firemen had put out the fire before too much damage was done. The bad news was that there was smoke damage in almost every room and the laundry room itself was completely destroyed. Ray and I spent the next three months flying back and forth from CA to Texas hauling out fire-damaged appliances and furniture; scrubbing down walls, closets, drawers and blinds; and checking in on the progress of our friend, who has worked for us for years, as he tackled the laundry room and repainted the whole condo. The laundry room was rebuilt, the whole place was painted and, thank you, God, the insurance company paid for it. They didn’t compensate us, however, for our time and our travel expenses. Those were on us. Still, we were happy we had a good policy that helped get everything back into shape. We were also proud that the condo turned out so well. Nothing like the satisfaction that comes from hard work.
But the toughest part of 2018 was that our beloved orange grove had the threat of a forced sale looming over it for the entire year. Because of the price and availability of land in Southern California, joint ownership is a typical option and we own a tract of agricultural land with two partners. Unfortunately, one of our partners got mad at the other and decided to enact a provision in our contract that was considered a nuclear option. At the end of 2017, she called for a forced sale of the entire property rather than just sell off her acreage. Ray and I were collateral damage in this dispute though we had to join the fight since we had no desire to sell the place that is a refuge for our entire family here in Southern CA.
As a result, we spent much of 2018 in lawyers’ offices or looking for other property to buy, and/or strategizing how we were going to move to a new location our cash crop of 65 oak trees, many over 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide. After endless communications with lawyers, the disgruntled partner finally agreed to sell her part to one specific buyer rather than force the rest of us to sell. But that sale didn’t close until Christmas Eve, 2018, which means that we have spent the entire year not knowing from one day to the next if that buyer was going to work out or fall out and send the entire process back to square one. Waiting is tough, no matter what you’re waiting for. In our case, we were waiting to see if we were going to continue to enjoy our favorite spot in California. The finalization of a sale on Christmas Eve was the best gift we could have asked for. Ray and I have been pinching ourselves since that day, hardly able to compute that this fight is over and our land is now safe. We also made sure in the future there can never be another forced sale. Consequently, for the first time in our 14 years of ownership of the orange grove, we can now settle in and know we are truly home. Hallelujah!
The theme of 2018 appears to be dealing with issues beyond our sphere of influence. We didn’t expect those two fires or the forced sale order. Forces outside ourselves put those situations into motion. All I can say is that we did our best. We worked hard, stayed on task, problem-solved as well as we could and kept moving forward. All with the help of Sarah, Gregorio, Liz, Ron and Rachael along with lots of snuggles from Luna, Nico, Cordelia, Frankie and, recently, little Hazel. One baby step at a time. And now we’re on the other side and can breathe a sigh of relief.
On a scale of 1-10, these problems were not in the upper third. We had no major illnesses, no deaths, no circumstances that were life-shattering. Yet, these three very different situations made me aware of how fragile life-as-we-know-it can be.
I am grateful that we have made it through 2018. I am happy that we now know that our orange grove will continue to be a refuge for us, our kids and our grandkids. Hooray, hooray and hooray again.
As for wildfires and house fires, well, I’m hoping we get a serious reprieve on those. However, I now understand more than ever how one little spark can change life as we know it very quickly.
Here’s to peace, hope and love in the new year along with health, and prosperity. We could do with calmness on the national and international fronts as well, if we’re wishing.
If all else fails, settle in to fight fires. It will shake you out of any complacency you may have fallen into, and also remind you to truly appreciate all that you have in this transitory life.