She wants us to go to a fire party.
That forest fire, above Canyon Road, that is near their house, maybe 1500 yards away. Fred wants us to attend a fire party.
We are discussing the mysterious thing when Fred calls. She has a guy name. But she is a gal. She and lover Ginger retired and live in this mountain town. She managed an-all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet place in Mississippi. Ginger was a security guard. They decided to study IT and got in before it was the thing to do. “Made a shitload of dough,” Fred puts it. “Enough to retire at 59.” They play in the snow during ski season, camp and canoe all over in the warm months, even though Fred has two knees replaced, Ginger, one hip.
Every weekend they invite us to join them. We always decline. “You won’t catch me sleeping in a bag on the forest floor, not at my age,” Ian says. He tells me why Fred called. “That forest fire, above Canyon Road, that is near their house, maybe 1500 yards away. Fred wants us to attend a fire party.” We decline of course. We are on the way to Denver for a concert.
The mysterious thing, Ian rants, “I thought all those yelling crazees, demonstrating at Planned Parenthoods, that they were far-right religious nutzos. At Mass, all these older Catholics like me are rallying to the new message, the sanctity of life. Today the deacon, he is not even a priest, he prayed, Dear God, please let our politicians heed the words of Christ regarding the sanctity of life. Since when did Christ say anything about inseminated zygotes? They wear T-shirts, Summit County Catholics for the Sanctity of Life. Bet they have God Made Adam and Eve not Steve tees in their closets. What would stop some bishop or monsignor, dressed in a dress, from whipping them up against the gays so they can fundraise money, money, money. Can you believe it?”
I can believe it. I am not the religious guy my spouse is. He is a devout Asian Catholic. Me, I have dabbled in atheism and agnosticism, an outlying follower of Ronald Reagan Jr.
Ian repeats Fred’s invite. “She says to come over tonight. Pot-luck dinner. A Fire Party, like those December Pearl Harbor parties you threw in the 80s. We bring the food and help them pack to evacuate, just in case. I dunno or is it like that volcano on the Canary Islands, lava flowing into the swimming pool, people running screaming from their home. Did you see that on YouTube?” I nod that I did.
“Sweetie let’s get packing if we are going to make that Denver bus. A knapsack and that is it, we might not have time to spare. Lordy Lordy, je suis fatty gay.” Big Darlin’ is checking himself out in the mirror. He is getting fatter. It is a line from Will and Grace that he is using a lot these days. A Jack line. A play with words. Je suis fatigue. Fatty-gay, get it? Seems you always need to explain gay speak.
The concert is cool, a walk thru Denver is cool. The big clouds cooling the mountain air. I am new to this nebulosity.
Ian is from these parts. A refugee from Vietnam, raised here in Colorado. When we first met in NYC, he would say that in New York, he could never figure where he was. “In Colorado, you knew where you were by looking where the mountains were, you knew to go east or west.” I thought that was poetic, lost in New York because there were no mountains. Ian is terrible with directions. In the car, I navigate, he drives. GPS, those are my middle initials.
The bus trip back from Denver is an hour and a half. Time flies. Because of the clouds. The big fluffy ones, they are cumulus. The others, they are different. Full yet thin and foreboding. The mountains are snowcapped. They stick up above the foreboding clouds. The tops have frosted while we were gone.
“Do you smell that. Like burning tyres, no more like wood. That forest fire, it must be getting put out. Those clouds, they look like rain. Could’ve rained here earlier. If not, it is sure to rain later, those clouds have that look.”
As we get closer to home, I see what looks like campfires that have been put out. There are three giant columns of campfire smoke. Looks like that’s where the forest fire was.
This is confirmed by the blue-grey smoke we see when we get home, up in the hills, at the tree-line, above the fields that separate from the homes.
In the evening from the terrace we see the orange flare up and smolder as the rain falls. The wind seems to be blowing the right way, or maybe the wrong way. Who knows. The flare-up of yellow and orange blends with the popping colors of the Aspen in late September in this neck of the woods.
The next morning I wait for the bus for morning java at the café. The clouds are all shapes and sizes and more like a mist. Above the ridge I see what seems to be a cross peeking out of the mountain top. The misty cloud slowly dissipates revealing the cross is part of a power-line tower. Attached to the complex is a giant cell-phone spire. The wind blows the right or wrong way, and the cross is a cross and then, no longer.
Ian calls me, “Come back home, now.” he demands. Fred and Ginger have left town, their home burned down to the ground. The field between the forest and their home did nothing to stop the flames.
Walking up the hill from the bus stop, I hear chomp, chomp, chomp. Then I see the helicopter. It looms, white all over, black at the back, a ’copter that looks like a giant mechanical dragonfly. Have you ever heard dragonflies hovering over a field at the end of summer? It is this dangerous buzz.
The helicopter flies to the lake, the reservoir, fills up with water, then flies to the fire and drops the water.
Ian covers his ears. “During the war those choppers meant getting people out.”
Ian is pissed. Fred and Ginger have thrown in the towel. They are off to some place in the Caribbean, an island below the hurricane belt. They want to escape from natural disasters.
“What are you so pissed about?” I ask him. We are not changing our plans. It is roughly six weeks since we arrived in Colorado, six-month retirement plan in the mountains, six months in Europe. We are not going to give up on this.
The phone is screaming. It is a pink phone. The manufacturers call it red gold so that men will buy that color, no doubt. But no mistaking, it is pink. It blasts that horrible signal, the one you get for an amber or flash flood alert. It pierces.
Once at Mass, Ian says, the whole church, their phones went off. Father Steven kidded, “That is God’s way of saying silence your cell phones.” The congregation giggled. Ian did not. “Fr Steven always jokes like that, to emphasize some doctrinal point I guess.”
The chomp of the helicopter, and the screeching alert saying it is safe to go back home, pushes Ian to a momentary frenzy. He grabs the phone and throws it out the terrace door. He screams his high-pitched gayest scream, short, shrill.
And then he calms down. He shrugs. “I aimed at the Aspen trees.”
We find the phone later, out on a bed of Aspen leaves, fallen with their fiery yellows and oranges, sanguine and vermilion.
I am gay and Filipino. I used to be a chef and I retired and lived in NYC writing the Great American short story. I have moved to a mountain town in Colorado to stay six months while it is not ski season and six months elsewhere, mostly Spain. When I first moved here I was struck with how expansive and beautiful, limitless and scarey the Rocky Mountain Midwest is. With mountains and endless valleys and winding roads, possibilities seem endless yet there is a foreboding to that endlessness. I am writing western stories that are almost noir. I write to answer the meaning of life. And how that meaning takes on a darkness, as dark as the clouds that set in on thunderous afternoons, the deluge lasting a few minutes, ending with sun peeking thru until glorious sunsets over spacious peaks. It is a great canvas to put down my pondering about extremism and what to do with it. I feel this is my Joni Mitchell moment, I am searching, how do we get back to the garden. Do I sound like an out-of-touch ex-hippie, so be it. To quote again that Jack line from Will and Grace, je suis fatty gay. And the Mexican food up here in the Colorado mountains, and the crepes both buckwheat and regular, they are not helping much.