The sky was studded with lightning. It was June 20, 2008. "Dry leaves and grass smoldered, then burst into flames. Fire crawled along the ground and into the brush and trees. . . . By sunrise the next morning over 2,000 fires blazed across Northern California. In the following weeks, wildfires would destroy more than one million acres, leaving at least 300 families homeless. Thousands of wild forest animals fled their homes. Many would not survive."
So begins the extraordinary story of "Saving Li'l Smokey" ($11.99 in paperback, www.lilsmokey.net) by Adam and Celeste Deem, with full-color illustrations by Ryan M. Lamb, a freshman at Redding's Foothill High School. Adam works for Cal Fire; on July 17, 2008 he was driving "deep into the forest" past Whiskeytown Lake "up the mountains to Shoemaker Bally." Suddenly he saw a bear cub whose paws "looked melted." It was no easy task getting the frightened and injured cub into his truck, but as the story unfolded in the media Li'l Smokey melted the hearts of people around the country and across the globe. The terrible fire season had a face.
Adam and Celeste will be reading their book this Saturday at 2:00 p.m., during the All Ages Storytime, at Chico's Barnes and Noble store. Afterward they'll sign copies and talk about what happened to Li'l Smokey after his rehabilitation with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (which will receive a portion of the book proceeds).
According to an authors' note, Celeste, raised in Alaska, first met Adam "while hiking in Northern California. Her motto was 'Love me, love my dog," and upon meeting Adam, he immediately began tossing a stick for Kody. They were married ten months later."
Back at headquarters, Li'l Smokey sat on Adam's lap "while the medical team examined the cub. Melisa gave the cub a cherry lollipop, much to his delight. He tried to eat the whole thing in one bite!" It was a sign of hope: "Maybe the cub would survive." Eventually, at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the bear, paws wrapped in bandages, "feasted on special milk, peach nectar, and all the food he wanted, from blueberries and what grass to pieces of fresh salmon."
In the midst of destruction, these are the paws that refresh.