Exploring Without a Map

A memoir of a love affair that seemed doomed – but was it?
Sample Chapter


The wildfire was coming.

I survived the big one 11 years before and vowed that I would do everything in my power to keep the things I loved from being at risk again.

That time, there was a triangle of firestorms surrounding the Los Angeles basin. The one closest to me was miles away and headed in the opposite direction when I decided it would be OK to visit family out of town. I could hardly believe it when my neighbor called that evening to say that howling Santa Ana winds had turned the fire our way, forcing evacuation. I coaxed my dog and threw my purse and jumbled belongings into the car. Among other things, I had four other pets remaining in the house.

As I drove, the gale force strong enough to change a wildfire’s direction battered my car and sent branches and trash cans flying across the freeway. My cell phone rang. It was a friend who also lived in the foothills. I heard the catch in her voice.

“We managed to get some stuff out, but they wouldn’t let us into your neighborhood.” The catch turned to sobs. “I think our houses are gone, Lynda.”

“Thanks for trying,” I choked. My throat ached. I was crying, too.

When we hung up, I started going over in my mind what else in my home might be lost. Pets were the worst. I had favorite pieces of art, clothing, gifts, and of course, ‘important papers’. But in the end, belongings were just things, and documents could be replaced. What could not be replaced were pictures and letters and writings collected since childhood. I had bins of them in the garage. One in particular stood out in my mind. I tried to concentrate. Where was it, in case I had any chance to rescue it?

Soon I could see the terrifying jagged line of orange crawling across the mountains. When I turned off my exit, the road uphill to my neighborhood was blocked with police cars. One officer turned me away, but another took pity on me and my animals.

“There is a back way,” he said quietly. “Just go down a block and then keep turning right. But don’t tell anyone. Get your pets and go, please. It’s not safe.”

The air was thick with smoke. The power was out, so even our sparse streetlights were of no use. Wind whipped tree branches and sent hot embers swirling like confetti. As I made the turns I wondered if I were about to enter into something over my head, maybe even life-threatening. If the house was still standing, I had to get my pets out. And I had to try to find that bin…