It always comes just when you've let your mind wander. Outside the dark windows, the wind howled. I could hear aspen leaves pinging against the window screen and the dock grinding against its moorings out in the roiling bay. Occasionally, a distant creak and crash came from somewhere deep in the forest. The power flickered once . . . twice . . . three times, then prevailed. I re-queued the DVD, pulled at my ball of yarn and started another row of knitting. Nothing bad was going to happen. Not tonight.
But the phone rang at a time all too late and the wrong day (Friday) for it to be a friendly "check-in." And just as I said "hello?", Andy's emergency pager went off. So while I took a message from our neighbor that a tree had tipped into a live electric line down the road and nothing could be done to extinguish the small fire until the electric company came (from 70+ miles away) to switch off the power and would Andy come and help turn on the wildland fire sprinkler systems around the bay, Andy was wriggling into his fire gear. And suddenly, I was switching my pajama bottoms for real pants, shoving my feet into tired sneakers and running down the gravel road, the flashlight throwing a jiggling white light out into the darkness in front of us.
I should have known that a morning that dawned red could only mean calamity. But the unease I felt rising to a reddish orange glow in the northern sky dissipated as the day wore on, even as the wind kicked up. It was a red-flag day for the fire danger and the local agencies had banned fires of any nature. Not even charcoal grills were allowed. Water levels were so low that our "floating" dock sat on the lake's bottom and the dying grass and leaves in the woods crackled underfoot.
I left the flashlight with Andy and returned to cabin after it became apparent that my biggest contribution to the firefighting effort would be to stay out of the way. To the moan of approaching sirens, I crouched beneath the porch, fiddling with our own sprinkler pump. When I filled bottles of water from the lake shore for the pump's reservoir, the wind blew so hard that it flipped the bottom of my flimsy button-up shirt up over my chest and twisted the shirt around me.
The smoking tree burnt a 10'x10' patch under the power line before the electricity was shut off and the fire department could extinguish it. By the time I walked over with a thermos of coffee for the quickly fading volunteer crew, it was nearly midnight. Under the flashing glow of red emergency vehicle lights, I watched the firefighters rolling hoses and packing away chainsaws.
The wind still buffeted the cabin when I finally rustled under the covers. But as I listened to the floor boards creak and Andy toss and turn next to me, I tried to lull myself back into that sense of security I'd had earlier in the evening.
Nothing bad was going to happen. Not tonight.