Thursday, November 28, 2019

"Burnt Offerings"

Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud ( lost his home, including his studio, in the Camp Fire. But thanks to many "angels" his pen is active again. 

In 2017 and 2018 he had taken up the "INKTOBER" challenge for artists to post a drawing each day in October in response to the word for that day. After the fire he decided to compile all 62 sketches into a book, the proceeds of which would go to helping Camp Fire survivors. His original drawings were destroyed, so he redrew each one and included a short commentary. 

"Burnt Offerings" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published with the help of MC2 Design Group) is available on Amazon and locally at ABC Books in Chico. It also contains a short narrative of Ferchaud's escape, and the aftermath, and nine drawings of "special Paradise landmarks," including the Gold Nugget Museum and the Honey Run Covered Bridge. Be prepared for a rush of feelings.

Though his drawings are whimsical Ferchaud focuses on adult concerns; there are a couple of raised middle fingers, a swear word, and plenty of monsters: greedy televangelists, politicians on the take, war profiteers. Wry humor abounds.

Take October 3, 2018; the word is "roasted." "Thanksgiving Day: We say our thanks, and then eat like there is no tomorrow. Maybe we should just eat, be thankful every day, because the odds are pretty good that there will be a tomorrow, even though it is always uncertain what tomorrow may bring." 

The drawing shows snarky pigs around the dinner table as they pass the serving platter with a plump little man roasted to perfection. Ferchaud adds: "My vegan and vegetarian friends loved this cartoon. Friends that lived in Vegas said it ruined buffets for them for the rest of their lives."

There are sweet moments, too, as Ferchaud responds to "precious." Yes, there's a Gollum-like creature in the drawing. "And speaking of rings, one of the things I found after the fire amongst the ashes was my Grandfather's ring. I found it after I stopped looking for it. Before the fire, I only wore it on special occasions. Now I wear it every day. A reminder that every day is a precious occasion."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Out Of The Ashes: One Survivor's Journey In The Aftermath Of Two Historic Wild Fires"

On September 6, 2016, the Saddle Fire, six miles southeast of Paradise, burned hundreds of acres. Antoinette Peppler and her husband lost everything but decided to rebuild.

They "moved in & celebrated being home again in 2018. Then the Camp Fire hit. We struggled to leave our home once again after just moving in. We were evacuated for 2 weeks. We came home again on Thanksgiving Day." Fire had spared them this time, but "we lost our town, our community, family & friends."

Peppler, a poet and professional cake decorator, created a blog to "encourage & inspire others"; those entries, reflections on paintings and photographs by friends and family members, have become "Out Of The Ashes: One Survivor's Journey In The Aftermath Of Two Historic Wild Fires" (self-published paperback; send a money order or cashier's check for $25.00, which includes $5 shipping, to Antoinette Peppler, PO Box 1646, Paradise, CA 95967).

The paragraphs Peppler writes never minimize the hurt--she's been there. In "17 Treasures More" she writes: "A treasure box of remnants & charred burnt jewelry. ... Oh my heart... deep down, my soul just ached, as I felt the sorrow drop me to my knees." "Sometimes," she writes, "I’m just so emotionally & mentally exhausted. Like I have been physically running, almost sprinting, in a long-distance race. ..."

The cleanup overwhelms: "The multiple choices that add to our list, are too many decisions to make or to fix. Want to scream but no time, need to cry but no tears, have to work but can’t move, just don’t know what to do!" 

But her faith is strong: "Though we were protected this time from the flames, it has left a scar upon our hearts & souls. We feel it, but this we know, we are alive because God’s grace still abounds. He is our shelter & I am trusting in Him!"

"We can’t change the past, though that’s what we want most, but we can paint today with a vision of hope. A plan to set forth a new life for ourselves, begins with a start to finish the race."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Fire On The Ridge: A Collection Of Poems"

"I am neither a writer nor a poet," Bill Hartley says. But in the wake of the Camp Fire, which destroyed Joy Lyn's Candies, the business he owned, he became both.

"Writing about the disaster is a release of the sorrow. It is also an acceptance that I am facing a new chapter of life, and it is up to me if I want to be happy or sad. I choose to move on; I choose happiness."

Hartley describes himself as "a chocolatier helping my son and daughter-in-law who now own Joy Lyn's." But he's an author now, too, with "Fire On The Ridge: A Collection Of Poems" ($18.50 in paperback from Gold Dust Press; available at the Gold Nugget/Depot Museum, 5570 Black Olive Drive, Paradise, and Treasures From Paradise, 969 Bille Road, with profits going to the museum.)

Each of the almost four dozen poems features a photograph by Doug Keister, and there are paintings by Pam Hartley (one of which graces the cover). Collected into five chapters, the first two, "The Fire" and "Grief," give way to "Acceptance," "Moving Forward," and "Resilience."

"My world was turned upside down," the poet writes early on. "All I saw was black and gray;/ My friends are scattered all around,/ I'm a lost soul in Paradise." 

In "Paradise Lost," memories are carried away: "As the trucks rumble and crumble the roads,/ They carry remembrances of young and old;/ The towering trees are scorched and the red earth torched black;/ We dream it didn't happen, we want our old life back."

But there's no going back: "The toll of his disaster weighs heavily on me,/ And insurance forms are all I see./ Now I just sit and muse--/ I'm suffering from the paperwork blues."

Yet later, in "Soul of Paradise," "You discover an inner strength you did not know,/ it came from hope that ebbs and flows,/ it's the love of our fellowman that shows." 

Bottom line? "So, believe in Paradise, you can't go wrong;/ The sense of community is vibrant and strong./ Although the road to recovery has many a twist,/ I'll be back in Paradise, the town I miss."

Thursday, November 07, 2019

"The Camp Fire: Dreams, Nightmares, Hopes"

"In an instant," writes J.R. Henson, "the Camp Fire wiped out the community I lived in." He traces his emotional journey through poems and essays until "I reach a more settled location with the feeling of still being displaced from my home town."

"The Camp Fire: Dreams, Nightmares, Hopes" ($10 in paperback from Valley View Press) starts months before the fire; life is good, especially with "Gabie, the small curly-haired poodle." 

Yet during this time, Henson writes, "I kept seeing everything in my house through a cracked lens." The haunting vision subsides, not to return. 

Later, after the fire, Henson sees a picture of his house, and it's hard to believe. "I focus and enlarge the picture on the single object in the backyard. Now I can see the object to be a concrete birdbath with a concrete squirrel sitting at the top. That's when I know the burned down house is mine."

His escape on the day of the fire is more harrowing because his truck is low on gas. "I climb halfway up the last hill before reaching the main artery out of town. The feeling is like being stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel. All I want to do is get off this amusement park ride." 

He imagines Nature "intent on scorching every last home and big building.... Weeks later, Nature's rage slips away. Cleanup crews chop down healthy and unhealthy trees.... Finally, after many years, Nature wakes up just to see that nothing has changed for the better, and many of the human beings are just as inhospitable as they have been in the past." 

"God takes away the stewardship from human hands for being incompetent," the poet writes; "White hot flames cleanse the Paradise because of the promise that has been broken."

"It's hard for me to imagine hope's return," Henson writes. But it does, and with it the prospect of love. Maybe humans have been given another chance.

The author will be presenting his book at the Chico Library Meeting Room on Monday, November 11 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. and Saturday, December 7 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Meetings are free and open to the public.