Voice Ghosts of Neighbors Past
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 by Frank Shortt
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Recently, while spending time cleaning up from the Caldor Fire in Grizzly Flat, I was reminded constantly of how blessed we were by not losing our home there in the fire!

When the firefighters had the tremendous job of preventing the fire from devouring our home they had to use a fire retardant to keep the fire from spreading.  As they sprayed the area in front of the house, some of the retardant overspray landed on the walls and the foundation of the house. It took me and a hired man two days to scrub the walls and foundation to take most of the retardant off. I then had the unpleasant job of painting over the damaged surfaces with the leftover paint that had been used to paint our house a few years ago. I had to keep reminding myself that I was blessed to have some surfaces to bring back to a normal state!

Voices carried a long ways up there in the mountains and were usually distinguishable by the conversations each indulged in.

Each time I took a break I could still remember the voices that came from Eric and Katrina’s home just kitty-corner from us. They were our neighbors for at least 15 years! I cannot ever remember them raising their voices in anger to each other or the children. The only time I would hear Katrina’s voice raised was when she wanted one of the children to come to her. It sounded more like a pleading than in anger. Something like “Nathan, would you please come into the house?” I can also still hear the pounding and eventual splitting of wood as Eric prepared for the winter’s cold. He always used this type work as a form of exercise. He could easily have afforded a hydraulic splitter, but instead he chose sledge hammers and steel wedges for the job. The only remnants of his homestead are the hollowed out and melted bodies of the vintage automobiles that he collected. Those skeletons will soon be gone also! My only souvenir of his place is a melted piece of metal shaped by the heat into an unusual art form.

I could also hear the activity of our neighbors below Mt. Pleasant Road, Jeff and Sharon. Sharon’s voice came back to me as she walked her German Sheppard along with Jean our neighbor above us. They had a lot to talk about each morning… before the fire. They each had relatives in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. The talk was mostly about family and how they fought the battles of life. On the other hand, Jeff’s voice drifted back to me, not so much as conversation, but as a remembering of all the work he did on his place before the fire. Pine beetles had ravaged many of the beautiful fir and Monterey Pine on his property. In order for him to protect the rest of the trees he had to cut, saw up, and split all the affected trees. His chain saw ran from daylight to dark in those days, then the eventual splitting of the wood to be used in the woodstove on cold and dreary nights up there in the mountains.  Sadly to say, most of his efforts to save his trees were wasted as now his house is gone, as are all his trees. Only denuded protrusions are visible and will soon be cut by FEMA in order to protect the remaining power lines and to protect any new construction of buildings on Jeff’s property. The wood that Jeff cut and stacked did keep him and his wife warm on some really cold nights before the Caldor fire. He even brought me a load of wood one time out of the goodness of his heart. This kept my wife and I warm through some chilly evenings!

I can also still hear the voices of Pastor Wheatley as he walked with his wife, another Sharon, and their conversation would be about the folks up in Grizzly Flat that they had taught, nurtured, and carried groceries to many of them when they fell on hard times. Pastor Wheatley knew how to get help for almost anyone who lived in his community.

Another voice I will hear only in my thoughts was Frank Showers. He would ride his bicycle by each morning and I can still hear his familiar, “Hi Frank” as he pedaled vigorously up the grade from Blue Mountain Drive. Frank was responsible for many works of art in stone throughout Grizzly Flat. He built my retaining wall in my patio and the other stone creations around my house, including my entry gate pillars. These all survived the fire and we Thank God for the blessing!

As I reminisce, I will probably hear many more voices of those who actually talked and those with whom I had interaction with through the years. The Powers that be have a way of changing things and scattering those who are bunched up. This is for a much greater purpose than what they were accomplishing…..before the fire. Maybe that through the hardships they faced in Grizzly Flat they will be able to be of service to someone in their new surroundings. Let’s hope that their voices carry over for that purpose!