It's hard to evacuate a peacock.
As the Rim fire closed in on the Spinning Wheel guest ranch last summer, Dharma Barsotti had to leave Elan behind, and figured he'd never see him again. But when he returned, the bird was sitting on the porch of one of the houses that still stood, a vivid splash of color against the blackened landscape.
On New Year's Eve, on his way to dinner with his siblings, Barsotti picked one of Elan's feathers off the ground and stuck it in his porkpie hat.
It had been one of those years when you hang on to the bright spots.
The Rim fire, California's third-largest on record, raged for two months. It burned 257,314 acres of the Sierra Nevada range, including 10% of Yosemite National Park, the draw that brings people through Groveland on California 120. Two weeks after the smoke cleared, the federal government shut down, closing Yosemite for weeks during a balmy, blue-skied autumn.
Then, two weeks after the shutdown ended, the snows came and closed the Sierra passes for the season. In the isolated quiet there were transformations, large and small.
The most dedicated karaoke singer in town took to drinking too much, then stopped drinking or going out at all. A recent widow studied up on wildflowers after a fire. California Department of Transportation worker Rick Martinez — a former member of the “Over 300, Big Boys Club,” as he puts it — shed 47 pounds. He'd put in 14-hour days during the fire but was plagued by thoughts of whether he could have done more if he hadn't been so exhausted.
At the Iron Door Saloon, Dharma's sister Corinna cut staff and took over all the cooking shifts. Her husband, Chris Loh, worked the bar.
They may have to sell the Iron Door.
Running the saloon, which has been serving drinks since 1896, was thrust into Corinna's hands when her mother died 10 years ago. Corinna was 25 and had different dreams.
Lately she's been feeling a mix of weepy and exhilarated.
“Our houses burned. The bar's going,” she said. “And inside me, I feel this deep sense of change.”
#storysongs combo: “Ashes & Fire,” by Ryan Adams. A song to make the heart keen. Here’s a lovely live version on the Jools Holland show.
If you have ideas for story-song pairings of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #storysongs.