After the Fire

Precipitous Records headquarters, before and after:




It's really incredible to me that the post I put up before this one was called "Crossroads." I just reread it, and it really couldn't be a better prologue to a post about the fire.

(and heads up: for whatever reason, the formatting in this piece is just weird - and that's appropriate, I guess.)



In the beginning of December, my husband and I took off for two weeks in Chile. I was thrashed. The past three years have been a blur of traveling and production and promotion of a project very dear to me – my documentary The Shopkeeper. And I was wrangling with where all that work left me. 

The place we were traveling first was Valle Chacabuco in Parque Patagonia, the stunning park created by Kris and Doug Tompkins as part of their master plan of buying and preserving millions of acres in Chile, to be turned over to the Chilean people for posterity.

To get to this remote place, you fly to Santiago and then you take two more planes to get to Balmaceda and then from there you drive eight hours on dirt roads to the lodge. We arrived in time for dinner and – you couldn't plan this if you tried – a perfect view of the Super Moon from the deck.

There's no cell service – just Wi-Fi - and you can only get online in one little lounge. So I was forced to disconnect from all media.

The next morning, our first full day without traveling, My hubby and his friend Roger took a long hike and I took the day to read and stare at the mountains and not decide anything about anything. It was the first time I had really sat still in a long time.

We stayed up that night pretty late talking to some folks from Alabama who had found their way there - very interesting conversation about life and politics – and around midnight we went to bed. (They turn off the generators every night out there between midnight and 6 AM to conserve energy so you kind of have to.)
At 11:58 PM, just as I was leaving the room with the Wifi, I got a text message from my daughter that there was a fire not far from her house in Santa Paula. And then the power went out. 

In the remote area where I live in the mountains near Ojai, brushfires are just part of the deal. We’ve evacuated many times. Our barn burned down in 1999. It's just something you know to be prepared for. So you have a plan for the people and the animals and you try to grab what you can and not worry about it too much.
So I tried to sleep, which wasn't that successful. At six in the morning the light came on beside the bed and I ran into the room with the Wi-Fi. A million voicemails and text messages flooded in. As you probably know, the fire blew through incredibly quickly, but you might not know that there were actually two fires that night that merged. After the Thomas Fire started about seven miles down the hill, the Koenigstein Fire sparked from a blown transformer, just up the ridge from my house, and quickly they joined into one multi-tentacled beast.
I didn’t know all that then. I was trying to make sense of and respond to everything, and I ran to wake up my husband. Just then our friend Tim, who’s a Commander in the Sheriff’s Department, saw that I was online and called me: “Where are you?!?” “We’re in fucking Chile!” I responded. Then he went into Calm Cop Voice and explained that the office/studio was gone, the house was currently standing. It was breakfast time in Chile but 1:00 am at home - at that point the fire was still burning through my neighborhood. 

Shot at my house the night of the fire

Then the calls to the kids, and the friend who was housesitting - were she and her son okay? Did she get the pets out? (Yes, thank God.) - and it took us about 5 minutes to absorb that we had to come home. So, fully adrenalized, we set out back the way we came, making phone calls whenever we got a cell to talk to one evacuated daughter and one daughter trying to cope from faraway in Boston - and make arrangements for the pets, the property, and the trip home. Friends stepped in in the most humblingly helpful ways to fill the gaps. We finally made it back two days later.
At home, it was almost a week without power, with neighbors trickling back, learning which of our friends lost houses (many), and beginning the long process of cleaning up and recovering. There have been a lot of gatherings since then, made even more poignant during the Holidays; one long community conversation about insurance and county regulations and sifters and how the silver lining of all this is that it’s really good to see and talk to each other this much - more than we have in years.
So now it’s January 9th, and I feel different. Yes, all my files and instruments and memorabilia and the little tchotchkes that one keeps all around one’s space burned up. As a musician, my work exists in recordings, most of which were on some Cloud somewhere, so they’re not gone. Some older stuff, never uploaded anywhere, is, and that makes me very sad. 
The family’s memory boxes - all the drawings and little certificates and notes to Santa - gone. My hubby lost all his camping gear - which is replaceable - and all his lifetime of camping journals, which are not. But how much of who we are is dependent on the physical things that represent us? I’m feeling: not as much as I thought. And I am acutely aware that I’m having these thoughts while sitting in my house, a luxury that dozens of my close friends don’t have right now. 
The song that keeps running through my head is the Allman Brothers’  “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” I just have this strong feeling that so much of what I worried about and planned to do - it’s not important. I tried hard to make myself embrace a social media strategy, for example. And now: I just don’t care. I’m 51 years old and it’s way more important to write the songs and stories I need to write (and I have some brewing, I’ll tell ya). The music business is dead anyway - I proved it! - so I might as well make the art I want to make and let the chips fall where they will.

Shopkeeper Promotional Water Bottles

So. Thanks for taking the time to come to this website and caring to read this whole thing. Hug your people, let go of the trivial bullshit, and make your art.
P.S. On that note - I’ve got a hankering to start teaching again. Got something to say but need some help saying it? Let’s discuss.






Showing 9 reactions

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  • Ian McMurray
    commented 2018-01-11 06:08:02 -0800
    Glad you’re safe. An event of this magnitude is impossible to describe in terms of every way it affects you and your community. I am currently helping to rebuild Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, CA which had the North side of the campus burn to the ground in the Sonoma County firestorm back in October. I see where the Larkfield neighborhood used to stand every day I’m at CNHS. It will be a long healing. My wife and I were lucky as our community was spared. What’s interesting is how it affected my relationship with writing. The event left me numb and words have yet to surface but I’ve been playing my guitar a lot. A lot of slack-key influenced open tuning on my old Guild. Little riffs and themes keep bubbling up and I don’t know what it means except it’s peaceful and calming, a far cry from my blues-influenced rock and roll plugged in and turned up. I look forward to seeing what comes up for me as I’m sure you will be for your exploring. I look forward to learning what unfolds for you. The music industry may be have disengaged but music itself will always be another form of therapy and prayer. NorCal love to you and yours.
  • Nick Polus
    commented 2018-01-10 06:13:43 -0800
    So sorry to hear of your loss but as you say we are much more than the things we have. Thank you for sharing your story. Keep writing and be well, Nick Polus
  • Justine Wynn
    commented 2018-01-09 22:13:31 -0800
    I’m so sorry about your losses, Rain, and grateful you and your family and animals were safe. My family being nomads for a full month and during the holidays made it a strange time and now full of transformations and new beginnings. I wish you every blessing in your new beginnings ❤️ P.S. My teenage daughter has begun writing songs and may be interested in your classes. 😊
  • Katharine Smith
    posted about this on Facebook 2018-01-09 21:32:37 -0800
    After the Fire
  • Katharine Smith
    @katharinsmith tweeted link to this page. 2018-01-09 21:32:34 -0800
  • Michael Takahara
    commented 2018-01-09 20:55:12 -0800
    Dear Rain, Sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing your thoughts down and sharing your story. You said, “But how much of who we are is dependent on the physical things that represent us? I’m feeling: not as much as I thought.” That is inspiring and true. I think about the last gathering we went to your home to watch Matt The Electrician with you. That was another magical evening because we shared the experience of live music together, as a small community. I remember people sighing with pleasure as they listened to the music. I remember having my family and a couple of friends sitting together and feeling so joyful to be there with everyone. That’s just one of the gifts you gave to me that no fire can burn away. Thank you.

    Life isn’t a comparison of who has what. Living a meaningful life is connecting with others, contributing to making the world a better place, and finding the meaning of the tragedies that come our way. Your post here is all three. Thank you and best of luck creating more songs to fill our lives. Peace, maka
  • Vicki Hafer
    commented 2018-01-09 19:21:56 -0800
    《Hugs》 You’re a strong woman and I admire you for that. I’m sorry you lost your memories, you’ll make new ones. Good luck on teaching, it’s a noble thing you do.
  • Sonia Nordenson
    commented 2018-01-09 17:55:20 -0800
    Tears, Rain.
    But you are a lemonade maker.
    x o x/s
  • Will Buckley
    commented 2018-01-09 17:48:17 -0800
    Rain so sorry to learn of your loss. It’s as if Cqlifornia is being punished with fires and mudslides for simply trying to do the next right thing. I know the beautiful area where you live and even met Doug Thompkins long ago when he lived in the Bay Area and visited the preserve back in the seventies.

    May your home surroundings grow back healthy and strong and your love and respect for music endure and help pull through these times.

    Thanks for all your contributions and bringing the disaster that has impacted so many into vivid reality for those of us who call California our home from afar.

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