(September 25, 2001)

Today is a true Fall day here in Texas.  A cool Canadian wind has swept down our canyon from the north, carrying with it the promise of change.  Seasonal change.  In any change there is the prospect of hope.  I need to feel hope today.

There is always a loss, however, inherent to every change.  For two weeks we have felt the acute loss... a loss of national innocence.  Our country was raped on September 11, after all.

Despite our best attempts at getting anything done around here since that Tuesday, my husband and I have found ourselves irrevocably drawn back to CNN; hourly at first, now daily. And, subsequently we've found ourselves inside our house since the tragedy.  Too long indoors.  Today's norther' has, at last, given us the incentive to go outside again.  I think the only time we've gone out for any length of time it was just hours after the Towers fell.  We live pretty far out in the country and are not normally aware of the white noise generated by jets flying so far above us as to be visibly imperceptible.  In fact, I wasn't even aware of them going overhead at all, really, until that afternoon when no jets were flying.  No planes of any kind were flying that day.  It was deathly still outside.  The quiet was much too loud.

Fifteen days have now passed. Yesterday we cut down the tall grass around our fire pit in the woods.  It was late in the afternoon by the time we finished, but I insisted that the wind was still and it would be OK to burn the rubble which we had accumulated since last April in the pit; small scrubby trees we'd hacked down, yard clippings, hedge trimmings and miscellaneous scrabble.  My husband made me put on my steel- toed boots.  He gave me the matches and I lit the dried remains of our boxwoods.  Flames exploded from the pile instantly, towering above our heads, swirling smoke and heat so fast I gasped.  We have a garden hose out there, too, to keep control of the pit, so I began drenching the perimeter, just in case...
Within an hour we had successfully burned to the ground an equivalent of two truckloads of yard debris.

When I originally dug the fire pit last fall, carefully and neatly placing stones in a circle designating its perimeter, wishfully dreaming of weenie roasts, marshmallow roasts, and sing-alongs, I was thrilled to see the first flames glowing in the pit, and the first ashes there the next morning indicating its viability and non-ornamental qualities.  I could not have imagined that a mere one year later our country would be so savagely devastated that just seeing flames leaping into the air within my pit could cause me to have a flashback. Me? I wasn't even close to the Twin Towers.  But now I, too, have been damaged by its decimation.  And as I watched the flames leaping and swirling well past dusk until they withered and dwindled into but a glowing pile of ash, I wondered if we would ever get to take that pleasure I originally intended us to have, ever again, around our fire pit.  I wondered if anyone would ever be able to gather there for a marshmallow roast or sing-along without seeing those flames and remembering...

Funny how the mind works.

I often have told friends that based on my own experience, it seems to take two years to get past the trauma of another's death, a divorce, a job change or loss, a move.......could it be that in just two years we can once again look forward to cooking out in my beloved pit without spontaneously responding to it in inexplicable sadness while uncried tears make their uncomfortable presence known in our throats?

This morning my husband and I went out to check the ashes, to stir them and watch the last of the tiny embers fade.  I stared blankly at the center of the circle where ashes like fine snow blew upward in a spiral into the robin's-egg-blue-Fall-sky, and all I could think about were those images of bloodied people running out of the black clouds of ash, gray as ghosts, shocked, stunned, separated from their own innocence, separated from lost friends, changed forever.  I had to leave the woods and come back inside.  I had to write something down.  Gene's 85 year-old mother was in Holland when all of this happened.  She was way out in the country without a television to make any of this real.  She may come to visit us before Christmas.  She'll want to sit by our woodland fire pit and warm herself there in the mornings, probably with a cup of hot chocolate.  And I'll go out there with her.  But will she ever understand once we have walked into our serene woodland retreat, that as we strike our matches, and as the flames begin to leap inevitably, and as the ashen cinders begin again to float through the air on the crisp autumn breeze into the endless blue Texas sky like tiny microscopic ghosts, why it is that my heart is inexplicably breaking right beside her?

I pray she never does.