I am still not prepared. I am resolutely not prepared. And while I know that material things are a drag on the soul and that you can’t take them with you (Tutankhamen tried, and look what happened to him), I can’t imagine the kind of triage an evacuation would involve. Which vital papers to sacrifice, which to preserve? What about bank accounts, insurance policies, the 50 boxes of my archive, the deer antler I found in my boyhood woods, the first record I ever bought (Stan Getz, Jazz Samba)? Not to mention the immovables, like this house in which I am now sitting, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed entirely of redwood 100 years ago. If it came to it, I could probably induce my wife to get into the car, my children, certainly the dog, but not the cat. The cat, I’m afraid, would do what cats do—hide—and that hiding would be the end of her.
When the Tea Fire hit Santa Barbara at dusk on the clear, unseasonably warm evening of Thursday, the 13th of November, we were, like everyone else, busy living our lives. Two friends had just flown in from Chicago, complaining of gloom and wet, and we were celebrating their arrival. We’d walked down to the Cafe del Sol, on the lagoon that overlooks the ocean, to sit out on the deck, drink margaritas, and enjoy temperatures in the 80s while reveling in the contrast with the dreary, benighted Midwest. Walking back along the beach, we barely noticed the winds, which had begun to rock the palms and eucalyptus but not in a particularly alarming way, not in the way of the arid Santa Ana winds (or as we call them here, Sundowners) that seasonally rake the hills and steal the humidity from the air and the moisture from the chaparral.