The plume of smoke this past Labor Day was gleaming in places and eerily dark in others. It wasn’t there when I went on my morning hike. But it loomed over the north half of town by the time I came out of the grocery store a little bit later.
Turned out to be from a wildfire—a big one. It had me unsettled all that week. Here are some scattered thoughts on fire and ADD/ADHD.
It stimulates those sluggish frontal lobes.
I was on a wilderness search-and-rescue team for a few years, down in New Mexico. My bum knees often kept me working the radios in base camp during searches. So I heard it all: Strategies made. Family members comforted. Terrain covered. Speculation. (Is it a body search now?) No problem focusing as I stayed in touch with teams in the field and kept a log.
A lot of people with ADD seem to end up in professions that provide that kind of built-in stimulation. ER docs and paramedics. Police officers. Military personnel.
It was worth paying some attention to the fire. Even all the way down here in town, certain neighborhoods were advised to get ready to evacuate. I learned which of my usual hiking trails were closed. And I found out who might have lost their homes, and who finally did and didn’t.
But I’m learning how to tell when useful information gathering and natural curiosity veer into, well, pure distraction. Into hyperfocus without a purpose. And I’m learning how to stop when there’s nothing more I can do or learn.
One thing I found out was where to donate stuff to people displaced by the fire. The perfect way for a person with ADD to contribute, right? Get rid of some clutter and help someone else at the same time.
After a basement cleanup this summer, I even had a bunch of stuff all packed up, ready to donate. I’d gotten it as far as the car but had taken it back out before a camping trip. Pop-up play tent and stove, little-kid box games, pink and purple girls clothing, a yellow plastic toy track—it was all back in the basement.
But some people opened up a vacant storefront as a place to bring donations. Families displaced by the fire could shop there like at a thrift store, but everything was free. I loaded my stuff into the back of the car again.
But by the time I got to the store, it was all stocked up—no more room. The stuff rode around in the back of my car for a few more weeks. I finally dropped it off at the local hospice thrift store.
I chose a couple of my hikes that week based on the possibility of having a view of the fire. I was thinking maybe I should be ashamed of that urge. Not that I was going to be in the way of emergency workers—not even close. I do know better.
But I thought a little more about it. Sure, wildfires can destroy property and worse. (No fatalities or serious injuries from this fire, thankfully.) But wildfire is also an interesting and beautiful natural phenomenon. I even studied a little fire ecology in college.
I think people with ADD are skillful at holding disparate thoughts in their heads at the same time. I can understand the danger and also appreciate a photo of flaming ridges under a starry sky. I can feel genuine sadness for people who have lost their homes, but I can also be in awe of the plume of smoke billowing quietly above my own house.
More than one person has suggested that I toss a match into all my boxes of old papers. There’s some appeal in that. A quick solution to a big problem. The chance to unburden, to begin again, to travel lighter.
But, besides the obvious impracticalities, there’s too much good stuff in those boxes. Stories of my grandfather’s childhood on a ranch in Utah and my great-aunt’s time in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Anguished journal entries about anxiety and infertility and failing marriages. Photos of loved ones eating crab on Christmas Eve, hiking above tree line, nestling in my arms just after birth.
The real solution isn’t a quick one. But I’m visualizing that lighter load. And working toward it one step at a time. Thank goodness.
Be ready to evacuate, suggested the Office of Emergency Management to residents in the northwest part of town. People got the cat carriers ready and packed photos and computers, paperwork and artwork.
I don’t live in that part of town. But it made me realize how hard it would be for me to pack for an evacuation. Photos, home videos, financial paperwork, my writing, my daughter’s artwork—they’re everywhere, and they're often buried.
It’s a reminder to think about what’s important as I continue to declutter the house. In part to be ready for an emergency. But, in part, to help decide what to keep and what to pass on. What would be worth throwing in the car if sparks were flying into the middle of town? And what would be best left to burn?
For ideas on how to prepare for an emergency evacuation from someone who understands disorganization, check out "FlyLady's 11 Points to Preparedness for Evacuation."
My thanks to all the emergency personnel, both with and without ADD, who worked on the Labor Day fire—and the two wildfires our area has had since.