Bandon burns

I sat across from Idell Panter, a woman whom I hardly know, at the IOOF picnic today. For no apparent reason, she told me at length about the Bandon Fire of 1936. She was nine and had a bad case of the flu when the call came to evacuate. Two horses burned to death before her eyes. Chickens wouldn’t abandon their roosts because it was the middle of the night, and cows died in their barns, too frightened to run.

An elderly man said he had rather die in his bed than to lose everything he had ever known. Houses exploded into flames before the fire even reached them. Two lumber schooners took some people to safety five miles from shore; others ran to the beach and were trapped between the fire and the incoming tide.

When Idell finished her account, we went on to talk of mundane things, and I was left to wonder why she had shared the nightmare with me. I know someone else who survived the Bandon Fire. He and his family literally walked away carrying what little their arms could hold, but Idell’s story was long and detailed and told with haunted eyes at a party, just as the Ancient Mariner had told his tale to guests at a wedding feast.

In the background, musicians played gospel hymns, their shirts, hats, and guitar straps emblazoned with American eagles and American flags. A strong wind blew dust from nearby mint fields, and sycamore shadows leaped frantically upon the blue tarp overhead. Nearby, lodge brothers who traveled the Oregon Trail lay under marble stones into which were carved the customary three links, one for Friendship, one for Love, and one for Truth.

At fifty-seven, I can have all the feelings that I once sought from LSD without even trying. Reality pours upon me like the surf, and burns me like the fires of Bandon. We finished yoga last week with a meditation in which we were asked to picture ourselves filled with light, but I saw flames of red and orange, an orb of fire with me at its center. It licked and tickled, and I loved what it brought me.

The bandleader at today’s picnic was also a carpenter, rancher, preacher, and body builder named Bret Evans. He was so tall that his head was partially hidden behind the tarp that protected the musicians from the afternoon sun. He reminded me of Chuck Conners, and I imagined that if Bret were ever condemned to hell, he would simply kick the gates down and force his way into heaven’s choir.

I never become accustomed to the fact that time is the greatest force of all, and that neither the strongest nor the most beautiful can withstand it for long. In fifty years, Bret Evans will be dirt, yet how can anything ever really be lost? Today happened, and its reality can never be diminished.