Home… at last
By Corey Sabatino
I celebrated my 47th birthday on Oct. 7, 2017. It was an extraordinary day, spent in the company of treasured loved ones, under a pastoral Sonoma sky. My senses were nurtured by the bounty of this valley and my heart was overwhelmed with the idea that I was finally home. I actually remember thinking strongly about that, because the idea of home has always been elusive for me. I suppose I’ve never taken that particular brand of safety for granted, but that night I rested my body in the home I knew would always be there.
In retrospect my ruminations were, of course, ironic. Just 24 hours after the revelation that had fortified my spirit, my tiny world collided with an unadulterated tragedy rivaling that of any in California’s history. The fires had started. Awakened by a text message from a friend, we tried to calculate wind conditions and any other variables that would give us time, but quickly realized that we had six pets to collect, and not knowing what was happening “out there,” we had no time to waste. We started packing and our power went out. We checked our cell phones, and found our cell service down. In less than 10 minutes we felt totally disconnected from the world. And in a matter of hours, we discovered the grim fate of our beloved county.
We landed in Petaluma, while days passed like weeks, and became enslaved in the microcosms of Nixle and Facebook. We received a mandatory evacuation alert, then it was revoked, all the while watching fear and tragedy tick down the social media feed. We continued to stay because we could not make sense of mustering our tiny troops, while the powers that be determined our fate. Massive plumes of smoke surrounded our valley, Glen Ellen was devastated, historical treasures were threatened, the Plaza was at risk, and our future left to chance. On Thursday, while driving through Cotati, my wife and I pulled into a parking lot behind a pub and cried.
Just days later, the immediate threat had finally ended. Although it was a slow and agonizing crawl toward affirmation, the heroes made good on their promise. They did their best to keep us from harm, they saved as many lives as they could, suffered in silence for those they could not, mourned the loss of homes and businesses, and grieved the losses their colleagues had suffered. In the end, they had saved Sonoma Valley, and for that I am exceedingly thankful. Unlike so many others, I got to come home.
I have often struggled to connect to the holiday season. Perhaps because finding home had always seemed like looking for the prize in a shell game. But I have dutifully continued to decorate in honor of my mother, who adored Christmas, and as a throwback to my bygone Catholic upbringing. Celebrating the holidays had become a habit, but somewhere in that emotionally harrowing journey through the fires, my spirit for the season has been rediscovered in the form of euphoric gratitude. I am grateful for the heroes, and every sacrifice they made. I am grateful to the community, who reached each other through the tiniest capillaries of a large broken heart. I am grateful for the rain and the life it brings forth. I am grateful for the solstice, as it works in earnest to give us hope for renewal. And as we struggle to cherish those I refer to as “the nested,” spirits both living and not living, but who are still bound together, I am desperately grateful for our home, where we can honor those spirits in the colors of Yule.
Corey Sabatino lives in The Springs area of Sonoma Valley.