Grateful; wistful; hopeful; reflective. One year after the Bastrop County Complex fire – the worst wildfire in Texas’ history – the jumble of thoughts and emotions still remaining can only be called complex.
Most of all, I feel gratitude. I am thankful for the support and love of my husband and family. I am appreciative and proud of my community for its collective strength and resilience. I am glad we were home that holiday weekend so we could rescue our cat. I am most grateful that we are survivors.
Yes, every so often I still feel a bit wistful for our loss. The loss of cherished mementos, photos and family heirlooms is regrettable. Occasionally I am nostalgic about a particular lost item, like a favorite pair of well-worn, comfortable shoes – the only thing worse than shopping for new shoes is breaking in a new pair! Sadly, I’ve lost the feeling of being completely safe and secure in my own home; that sense of solidity evoked by the illusion of one’s home as a castle.
For the most part, however, I am saddened by the extent of the overwhelming destruction to an area beloved for its majestic pine trees and rare wildlife. We chose not to rebuild on our scorched land because the natural beauty that originally drew us there is now gone. Instead we bought a home in Bastrop’s historic downtown. We traded the solitude of the forest for new friends, and as much bustling activity as a sleepy small town can offer.
Of course the experience has left its mark. I’m more alert to the smell of fire and the wail of sirens. Windy conditions on a hot, dry day make me uneasy. I prefer to buy books, music and movies in digital form now, and save computer files on a portable hard drive that I take with me when I leave town. On the plus side, I no longer take for granted any time spent relaxing with family and friends. I am more appreciative of each new day.
I’m sure that my feelings are far from unique. In Bastrop County alone, more than 1,600 families lost their homes during Labor Day weekend of 2011. Not to mention the other Texas communities that suffered fires that hot and windy day. And for those who were uninsured or under-insured, help is still needed a year later.
Yet despite everything that has happened, I am hopeful for the future. Yes, we had a narrow escape from a fast-moving wildfire, and before we could even begin to rebuild our lives, I was laid off from my job just two months later. But our shared experience has brought us even closer, and after 24 years of marriage we cherish our time together more than ever before. Our community is rebuilding, and I’ve found the courage to take my career in a new direction.
In retrospect, if I could be transported back to the security and complacency of my life one year ago and regain all that was lost, I don’t think I would do it. The future is an open book now, and I can’t wait to read the next chapter.