It did not seem possible that he could have survived. Every other living thing in the path of the October 9 Tubbs Lane Fire had either fled to safety—or perished.
No one even looked for him for days after the fire, because it seemed impossible to believe that any creature could have survived the firestorm.
Two weeks after the catastrophe, the authorities began letting homeowners visit their devastated properties. I left on a long-planned teaching trip the week after the fire, and my wife and family handled the thousands of details involved in taking stock. Christine returned to our property on Mark West Springs Road and found only devastation where our house had been.
Firefighters estimated that it had taken less than five minutes for the firestorm to turn the house and all the other buildings on our land to ash. Glass objects melted in the intense heat. The paint was burned off of cars. Metal structures buckled and caved. Ceramics chipped and cracked.
Christine walked through the wreckage, our friends Heather and Ray there to support her. Our pond, where Christine had cared for our elegant collection of koi, looked like a toxic waste dump. Kind Ray removed the floating corpses of the fish before Christine could see them. Tears came easily.
As she walked by the pond, Christine thought she saw movement, though nothing could be living in the scummy black water. The next day our resourceful friend Rick arrived to help, and waded fearlessly into the mess. He groped around on the bottom of the pond, and his hands touched a domed object.
He lifted his hand and out came… our turtle! Somehow he had survived in the toxic stew for two weeks.
We had never given him a name. He is a “red-eared slider,” a common species known for its hardiness. He came to live in our pond about seven years ago.
It’s not difficult to get out the pond if you have flippers rather than fins, and in the first year he escaped twice. Both times we found him a short distance away. After that, he concluded that that the perils of freedom were greater than the safety of captivity, and he no longer strayed. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the hill.
He used to swim around with the fish, but he demanded special treatment. When we threw food in the pond for the koi, he’d ignore the feeding frenzy. Instead, he’d glare at us with his tiny eyes until we knelt down and hand fed him. He wanted love and connection, not just food.
We’ve decided to christen him Mr. Tubbs. As a survivor of the Tubbs Lane Fire, it seems only right. He’s living with Rick now, since we don’t have a place to stay yet. Christine and I are predicting that Rick will fall in love with Mr. Tubbs and adopt him permanently. Watch this space!
And celebrate any thread that connects you to love and hope, no matter how fragile. We’re familiar with the people and things around us and assume they’re permanent. Like Christine and I before the fire, you have the illusion that the things you have and the people with you today will be there tomorrow.
Yet they could vanish in any one of a thousand ways.
Treat them as though they might be gone tomorrow. Treat every moment of life as though it is precious, especially those elements that connect you to family, friends, spirit, and nature. You might never experience a catastrophe that takes them from you, and you will then have enjoyed them to the full, savoring their sweetness till the end of your days.
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