What to Take, What to Leave …. An Artist’s Love Story

The horrific fires in California have grabbed my attention in a personal way because I have beloved friends living in Thousand Oaks.  They have chosen to sit in the maelstrom of wind and fire but promised the rest of us they would leave when authorities rang the doorbell (in this case it’s a radio siren).   

Randi and I have been friends for 45 years.   She is a fabric artist (among her many talents) and over the years has created a slender volume of quilts, handmade dolls, and all things fabric.   

Clay figure with orange/brown cloth clothes
venetian juggler
Clay figure dressed in authentic Venetian clothes of gray/blue. Happy surprise look on his face.
Venetian dandy at fireworks
Quilted squares of white, black, pink, orange with black border
Flowers for Frida






Her fabric stash, collected over decades, takes up two large closets, several stacked baskets and drapes over whatever empty chair shows itself.   Her lifetime of collecting all sorts of beautiful artifacts is also part of the story.

Some of it
More of it









A few days ago, they had to make serious decisions about what to pack and what to leave should the fires get closer.   How do you do that?   How do you choose?   With her permission, I am sharing her answer to these questions and more.   

November 12, 2018

“Dear Ones,

Awoke this morning to the now familiar sound of the whip-saw wind. I’m running out of language to describe what it sounds and feels like: roaring, jet engine, monstrous vacuum cleaner sucking all the oxygen out of the world…I don’t want to obsess but you get the idea…

Our front entry is still lined with stuff sacks, pillow cases stuffed with precious quilts made by my grandmother, mother and me, 2 backpack go-bags, and duffles with a few clothes, but mostly baby photo books, wedding album, framed photos, the beaded buffalo hide gloves worn by my Lakota speaking great grandmother, the small leather pocket book carried by my immigrant grandmother on the boat from Norway, a small collection of John Donne poems, and other misc, meds, docs, and ad nauseum etc. It was all gathered and packed between 3-6 a.m. Friday morning as the fires exploded a few miles from us and remains piled by the front door in case evacuation still happens. The frantic culling during that early morning was actually quite revelatory. During that process:  1) I decided what meant the most to me, possessions-wise, (a seemingly impossible task), 2) I realized most of the things in my home have stories, meaning, history, in other words, soaked with my life experience, and 3) it won’t all fit in two electric cars.   I won’t even tell you how it felt to leave my sewing machine and the lovingly curated stacks of fabric…

All of which reminds me to assure you that if the fire would ever threaten us, I would leave it all, as long as I had Jim and Luke with me.

On the other hand, since then I have tried to reconcile my attachment to my stuff, and the truth of change, which is as relentless as that incessant howling wind. This is advanced thinking for me. I prefer the triage of day to day life. And anyway, the air around here is not only filled with ash, it rushes around carrying with it devastation and indescribable pain from so many people whose homes are lost, or worse, loved someone shot to death last week. So I am trying to take it all in, this sense of imminent threat, stalking danger, and dread that has insinuated itself into waking and sleeping. I am sure there is a big “aha” insight somewhere in this whole maelstrom. But so far I can only report gratitude: for everyone and everything. Maybe that is why I made a pot of soup and biscuits yesterday, and probably why I am writing this.”       

Thanksgiving Apron

Randi and I have been texting each day and sometimes twice a day.   Her way of coping is to not only cook, but keep stitching.  Her art form heals from moment to moment.

“They beat back the newest one that was closest to us so tonite we have another reprieve. Quilting and visualizing each stitch a stitch of protection, a link in a chain to hold back the chaos.”

I don’t know how this story ends just yet.   As of today, they are safe and in their home.   What I do want you to know is how creativity in wind and fire can return us to the gift of the present moment.  It may feel like a small thing to hand stitch, draw or strum a tune, but it can work, as it does for Randi, to calm, soothe, and even ignite joy.

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