I had never seen so much black earth before.
I drove up to Calistoga this weekend for the first time since the October fires claimed dozens of lives and forced thousands of people out of their homes in Sonoma and Napa counties. Because of the day’s rain, the air smelled of burnt embers.
The road I was on must have been the dividing point between what burned and what didn’t, because on the right were vineyards and forests in full fall colors, and on the left was decay and ash.
What should have been picturesque autumnal scenery was marred by charred fields, burned trees, and black hills. Sickly green ash covered much else.
On the drive up a two-lane road, I hit a bottleneck. A lane was closed due to a collision in which one car drove the wrong way into traffic at such a speed that it ended up totaled underneath an oncoming car. It must have happened minutes before I got there, because I drove up right behind the ambulance.
Further on, I passed a site where, amid the charred rubble of a burned home, only a brick fireplace was left standing.
Still, my mood lifted because it seemed as though every hundred feet, there was a sign: Thank You Firefighters; Thank You First Responders; We Will Rebuild; Welcome Home.
Just weeks after sudden and unimaginable devastation, the people of Sonoma and Napa counties are counting their blessings, rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work rebuilding their beautiful homes and towns.
It may not have been the typical country drive, but it was one I was glad I took.