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Late Season Early Morning… FIRE!


Last wednesday we were awakened at 4:30 am by a call from our friend & neighbor, Taylor, informing us that the cabin below him on the beach, some 600′ north of us, was on fire.


I had just gotten to bed an hour before, so I woke more reluctantly than Stephen… who was off before I could get my teeth in. I had some moments to consider what I would bring… rather like Taylor’s story later, about how he had pondered the meaning of home as he left his house in those first moments after he woke to the glow of the blaze. I grabbed my camera, a flashlight & small backpack… in case he needed help moving out, I rationalized.

The fire was an old beach cabin… built in the twenties… a rare classic character. Fortunately no one was home. The owner lives in Seattle & has been coming out for summer weekends here since both of us were youngsters. Although my family in Kansas had no beach house I am curiously reminded here of stories Poppa told about Hemstrom’s Pond, a local swimming resort rumored speakeasy in his own youth, a mile north of our farm… In my memory 50 years ago, it seems of a similar vintage… old wood bleached dry, much like what was burning so intensely here.

Landmarks gone… how will we find our way?

Late as I arrived, I did still manage to capture the climax of smoke & steam in lurid heat & light. Would that I were better skilled to have grabbed more of the drama in which tragedy rewarded me moments of photographic luck.


Watching from the beach we could see the corner of Taylor’s deck glowing numerous times toward new flame… to be hosed-out time & again. We feared it would catch & spread, taking his home as well.

Our local fire department had arrived promptly & I was trying to visually capture the streams of water from their hoses, accomplished by deft arrangement of a smaller truck driven down our steep narrow road, with connecting hoses running from the larger support equipment left parked up on Dilworth Loop Road, which is two lanes… paved. There is also a fire hydrant not so much farther north.

The flames had by good fortune attracted a tugboat who’s usual job would be to escort large boats plying the shipping lanes which are our front yard. I remember it was there waiting… ‘close to shore as the tide would allow… when I first began to focus on the scene through my viewfinder. Just as those hoses seemed to run out of water we heard orders from the firemen to “move away up the beach”

Communications between the tug & the fire captain had been established. I saw water drops on my lenses before we could stop to gaze in wonder at the intense spasms of water being pumped seemingly through the miraculous beam of the boat’s spotlight.

The story devolves into a mystery of steaming ashes surrounding fallen chimney bricks in the smokey light of dawn. A smoldering tree needed to be felled, adding to the sad mess. In one of those flukes I see now that the outhouse somehow survived its close proximity to the same heat that threatened Taylor’s far more distant house. Blessedly no one was injured. Some later problems with appliances around the neighborhood resulted from pressure fluctuations caused by tapping that hydrant… but nothing so serious as we conjured in earlier fearful imagination.

It is now I might feel I ought to wax profound about life’s temporal qualities, but instead I will offer another image of the charcoal maple leaves I later found had floated to our lawn.

fragility lifting tough
into moments of desiccated adversity…
soaring unexpected birth.