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In Turnbull Canyon, a Whole World Is Gone

<i> Carol Justine Huebner lives in Hacienda Heights. </i>

We live on Skyline Drive at the top of Turnbull Canyon, the area in the Puente Hills devastated by fire on July 3. Before the fire, our house was one of three on the canyon side of the road; now we’re the only one left.

I’ve lost my neighbors. Not so much the people; most of them, fortunately, are still here, and the others may return and rebuild. But I feel deserted by an equally important neighbor, the canyon itself. It’s gone. The dry yellow grasses, the sycamore trees, the wildflowers have vanished. The avocado trees are shrivelled and pathetic. The canyon is black.

It is not a pleasant sight, not the comforting view I have grown used to over the years. Where there was the overgrown horse trail that wound through thickets of oak trees and ivy, there is now a jagged scar, barren and forbidding. Instead of a grassy observation knoll at the first turn, an abrupt shelf juts out over exposed crevices. Gone is the protected meadow of flattened brush where deer could eat in safety.

Over the last 11 years, my eyes have rested on this canyon a hundred times a day, but on our first day back in the house after the fire, there was no comfort through the ashen windows. We looked out on a landscape that was totally alien.

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Three weeks later, the blackened hills are softening their contours, as if in apology. And we’ve been assured that, even if the county doesn’t reseed the area, native brush will spring back healthier than before.

Still, a dear friend has been lost. As so often happens during a disaster, people here rediscovered friends and neighbors and demonstrated spontaneous acts of kindness. And, of course, we feel tremendous gratitude to the firefighters who saved our house and who were still nearby for us to thank when we returned.

But, at least for awhile, I’m not at ease in these unfamiliar surroundings. Deck plants are dark skeletons, and every afternoon the wind howls, carrying gray ash to recoat indoor and outside surfaces and claim our home as the fire failed to do.


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