Suddenly things are even simpler

I may have mentioned our storage unit that we’ve had these past several months, this 12×12 extra space to be the closet we don’t have in our yurt. It held the very down-sized collection of items we’d deemed significant and worth traveling on with us, the items we’d taken greatest care of as we moved from place to place the last couple of years.

I’d made a list of items from the storage unit that we needed to cycle back into the yurt:  the boxes of summer clothes that we hadn’t got out yet, a dress for me and our dress shoes for an upcoming wedding, my “Nourishing Traditions” cookbook so I could look at the kombucha recipe, the spare tea press to replace the glass one that broke last week…

Josh was still in milling mode yesterday afternoon so the children and I headed off to the storage unit.  We pulled up in front as usual, and as usual I didn’t quite make the turn to get up the ramp in front of the building…so I stopped the car about to back up and was looking into the adjacent building where cars are stored.  I always imagined these to be cars of people who come here only in the summer, luxury car upon luxury car.  I was looking at a maroon BMW and wondering why there was fire right behind it, why they would be doing some kind of blow-torch work or something in that space…  I backed the car up and now Caden also noticed the fire and wondered what that was from.  Finally it clicked that this didn’t seem quite right.  I stopped the car, went over and saw that there was indeed fire, climbing the wall behind the car with no one in sight.  Two little girls ran by in bathing suits, playing with a hose and I frantically asked them where their parents were.  They directed me up the nearby steps to an apartment and I bounded in yelling.  Two men ran out and then downstairs, grabbing the hose from the girls.  I started back to my car, my children, and saw a group of people running across the parking lot now, alerted by the shouting, already on phones and running for fire extinguishers.

I got back into the car, pulled up the ramp as planned, and for a moment thought about still going in to grab what I’d come for since my unit seemed so far away from the hubbub going on behind me.  I thought they’d soon have the fire out with what was already being used.  But it clicked that the fire trucks were coming, that we’d be blocked in, that my children were here.  We left.

We went home to tell Josh, the children excited to tell the crazy story of seeing a fire.  And then the children and I headed back out with plans for something fun and hopefully cool on this 80 degree day.

As we started heading back to the storage unit, suddenly it was very clear that the hose and fire extinguishers had not done the trick.  There was a giant billowing black cloud in the sky when we were still a mile away…

When we drove by, the fire had consumed the vehicle storage building and spread to the roof of our storage unit building.  The first firetruck was just pulling up.  I was hardly thinking pictures, but some reporter was:


We continued on into town and did what anyone would do when their possessions are in peril of going up in flames… went to the playground.  We swung so high that the swing set thumped as we reached the top.  We climbed slides backwards.  I did things on the jungle gym I likely haven’t done since I was 10, much to Caden’s delight – hanging and swinging in circles, dangling by knees upside down, climbing to the very top…

Still, I believed that the fire might have been stopped now.  We’d seen and heard so many sirens.  Our unit was close to the roadside, farthest from the fire starting point.  It would be wet and smell of smoke.  But when this cleared we’d dig through and see what was salvageable, starting to mentally inventory the items we had in there.

The road by was blocked that night.  The next morning we drove up to see this:


I wandered around, looking for any sign of our unit among the ruins of the 150 units that the building had housed.  Excavators had worked through the night moving piles around to make sure the flames were out.  I saw broken furniture, lamps, books, CDs, scraps of clothing, bins and boxes, twisted metal… The only thing that looked like it might possibly have been ours was a broken old canning jar.  No baby books, wedding albums, grandfather clock, quilt made for Aria by her Yaya using blocks made by her great-great-great grandmother, jewelry box with my engagement ring that had once belonged to Josh’s grandmother, snow shoes, bins with next size/season clothing, linens my mother and grandfather had needle pointed, hand-knit baby blankets, handmade Christmas stockings, KitchenAid mixer, hats Josh had knit, platters, canning supplies, a printer, my treasured book collection, lamps, extra bedding, my journals from childhood to college and beyond, the screen tent we were looking forward to putting up now that the bugs are here, a bulk box of toilet paper, garden pots and tools, letters Josh and I had written to each other in high school and college, our extra dining room chairs and table extensions, a collection of paintings, travel bags…  All gone in a very literal puff of smoke.

I cried when I saw that jumbled pile this morning.  In the end it was still just more things, special or sentimental or not.  We’re all fine and we still have what we need day to day right here in our yurt, even if I will be wearing the same one pair of shorts I had here all summer…  We just keep looking at each other, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, reassuring the children that it was just stuff, and knowing it ourselves.

One particularly ironic part?  The $550 fee for renting the unit for another year was due next week…  Turns out that even this fire’s dark cloud has a silver lining.

15 thoughts on “Suddenly things are even simpler

  1. Hi Mel and Josh, Caden and Aria. So sorry to read your news. Even though you are right about the things, it’s the history too. Now, you will make more history. Regarding the wedding pictures, send out a request to people to attended, maybe some of those pictures can be replaces. And Mel, have fun picking out a new outfit for the wedding.
    All the Best, Aunt Gail

  2. Oh My Mel, you absolutely amaze me. We absolutely did something right with you. Nothing is more important that family. The rest can just stay cherished memories. Love, Mom

  3. Oh Melanie!
    So sorry, I know it Is stuff, but all your precious stuff…have nourishing traditions and kombucha mother if you need…anything else you want to put the word out for?

    • Thank you Becka. I’m actually mushroom-sitting for Kasha and was trying to make sure I knew what I was doing. 🙂 I might be calling on your expertise if I don’t find another copy.

  4. I am so sorry – although I imagine great things will result from this loss. I had tears reading through your list of things that are gone. It seems like more than just “stuff.” Know that this experience needed to happen…

    • Thank you Cara. It was certainly way beyond what we’d ever have originally categorized as extraneous “stuff” but all the same it is clear that none of it is necessarily necessary for life to continue on relatively the same. Sad and not our choice, but it is what it is.

  5. I’m really sorry! You and your husband have a great perspective, and you seized the opportunity to teach your children a really wonderful lesson. Get lots of hugs! From the comments it sounds like you are a lady who is well loved by many, so it shouldn’t be hard at all! xoxoxo

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  7. Melanie and Josh, I am so sorry. What amazing lessons you are taking from this and what wonderful teachers you are to all of us. Thank you.

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