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Tamara Danoyan and DiAna Hart Smith

Danoyan_RE

Tamara Danoyan
Created using DiAna Hart Smith’s story (below) as inspiration

Memory on Fire
By DiAna Hart Smith

Coverage of the recent California firestorm brings vivid images to my mind from 20 years ago when I served on the U.S. Forest Service Fire Overhead Team.

I’m in a helicopter flying over the siege of fire in Northern California. Flames lick across forests, subdivisions, interstates, and Indian Reservations. It’s 1987 and one of the worst fire seasons to date. Many of the men, “fire beasts,” are still having difficulty adjusting to women, who trained and passed all testing, performing fire duties shoulder-to-shoulder with men. Each of us – men and women – engaged in fire-fighting is considered a resource. Each of our skills is constantly matched to fire-fighting needs. Each of us is dispatched to any ongoing fire in the country at a moment’s notice for the duration of fire season.

Deployed from Atlanta to handle tort claims, I am exhausted from flying across country all night, but I must prove my mettle. I line the base of my spine up in the steel helicopter seat as it absorbs the full impact of the brutal bouncing. Two young pilots, clearly loving all of the action, explain through the headphones that they’ll drop me off one mile from my assigned fire camp. One mile is as close as they can get.

Once we land the pilots point me in the direction of fire camp. My radio and MREs (meals ready to eat) will be waiting along with my new community of 200 firefighters, fire bosses and administrators. The helicopter lifts straight up and disappears. Outfitted in my canary-yellow fire shirt, matching hard hat, high boots, and olive-green pants — all Government issue, all fire retardant, I tote my thirty-pound red fire pack on my back and my ten-pound claims kit in my hand.

I begin my journey to camp in a craggy canyon – ugly grey rock with snow white outcroppings surround me and reach to touch the sky, which seems to be just above my head. I’m above tree-line and the sun is blinding. Encased in this rock envelope, claustrophobia starts to jerk me, even though I know I am outdoors. Many miles below, red, yellow and orange flames flick up from the base of the canyon like an out-of-control carousel…a magical sight. I almost understand pyromania — the lure of the frightening beauty of fire; the smell of smoke in the thin air. I make this trek quickly and arrive at camp in about thirty minutes.

Gone. Everyone and everything is gone. All that is left in fire camp are fields of abandoned white fire-retardant paper sleeping bags – fluttering and rustling in the breeze. I think to myself, “You are totally alone. You don’t know where you are. No one else does either.” I peer into the sole structure, a weathered one-room cabin, and can see evidence of a deliberate and speedy departure. A few blank Time and Attendance forms are scattered on the floor; bags of trash are bundled along one wall. Is fire advancing up the canyon too quickly to stay here? Has the fire line moved? Fear snaps to attention in my exhausted mind and switches to other threats. Will fire-frightened animals attack? Will I simply starve with no provisions, no radio? Frightened as I am, my training commands I stay in place — the greatest distance from the fire and the closest place I last had human contact.

My mind noisily begins tap dancing. I am all I have. I am completely untethered. I am no longer a part of anything any more. I think of my family – my son is in science class right now. I think of my job – the litigation report waiting for me to complete. My mind even taps over to my new pink high heels that I kicked off under my desk in Atlanta when the deployment call came.

Like Goldilocks I choose the best of the discarded sleeping bags. I drag this bag into the log cabin’s shadow and get some relief from the fire-ball sun. I lay down on the sleeping bag in snow-angel pose, and am entertained by hundreds of other sleeping bags that now, caught by rising winds, look like acres of discarded sails. I prepare to mentally ride the waves of this uncertain ocean. I soak up the total peacefulness, the gentleness of the soft winds, the grandeur of the sky. All the joys in my life come into focus to cancel my fears. And, I disappear into these memories and dream.

What is that tap, tap, tap. . .more mental tap dancing? I snap awake. Was it really possible that I had fallen asleep? The two helicopter pilots are at my feet tapping the thick soles of my fire boots with a stick. At first, they seem as happy to see me as I am to see them. As I struggle to wake, get up and reclaim my professional self, they alternate snapping, “You could have looked for us…waved…moved…so we could see you from the air! There’s been a four-hour search for you.” With a huge smile on my face, I solidly thank them and ignore their wrath. I am ecstatic that I am no longer alone, the fire isn’t advancing, no animals are prowling, and I’ll soon be eating.

I had learned to just let go of fear and hold onto joy for dear life. As the three of us head back to the helicopter in silence, I think for just four hours I got to step out of the world. Lucky me, I got to step back in.

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Danoyan

Tamara Danoyan
Inspiration piece provided to DiAna Hart Smith

Separations
By DiAna Hart Smith

He doesn’t pause. He doesn’t turn to look back. He leaves me aching for the times when he was little and he would stop, turn his head and look over his small shoulder to see if I was still there watching out for him. Now as an adult, he just goes. Leaves.

Through the cloud that has fallen to earth here in my garden, I watch my only child, my son, pass through my garden gate. He walks confidently…tall, erect, right elbow crooked so his hand fits neatly into his pants pocket. This is no casual jaunt. He’s leaving my tender care, my home, my garden to walk alone out into the world.

My heart fractures. My head knows that it is time. My resolve is to share his joy at his own independence, but he’s leaving my household and that’s all I can get my heart around.

Light just begins to slip around and blur the edges of darkness in my garden reflecting the uncertainty of his new world and my new world. Ferns, transplanted from his father’s old home place in Appalachia, form a fringe frame of my son’s silhouette exiting from our comfortable mother-son life that we’ve known living together for a bit more than two decades. My son and I sped through our mother-son journey that was
crammed-to-bursting with activity. Just blurs of vibrant colors weave our remembrance tapestry.

Now, my son and I will each share a dose of separation. Emotions swirl and collide as I give him my blessing. “Have a vibrant life; live fiercely,” I call out into the void behind him. I ask myself, “Have I armed him with all he’ll need out there in the great beyond? Was my wisdom too little, too archaic, too much or too often?”

My son drives off; he’s gone. Am I prepared? From his infancy, I knew this day would one day be his and mine to experience. He’ll live in his first apartment and pay the rent himself. I realize that I’m on my way to being a woman of a “certain age.” Age is breaking out all over me and I’m feeling quite under siege.

My misty eyes slide to a vine suspended in the air, stenciled on the mist. I turn and resume coaxing the vine off the old oak tree that soars fifty feet reaching for the sky. It’s work freeing the vine’s tendrils that have stapled themselves into the tree’s bark. Unattended this vine would seemingly squeeze this massive oak to despair in its attempt to cover and protect.

Unlike this vine, I hope I knew when to attach, hover and protect and when to peel back and not impose my impact on my son’s space. I tear great lengths of the strong choking vine from the tree. Yards of leaf covered streamers wave in the air then collapse in a wilted heap on the ground exhausted by separation.

Suddenly I am aware of many separations – temporary and permanent – coming toward me. Separations now resonate much louder and have become the crow’s caw harshly interrupting the wren’s sweet song. Separations have become a part of my life. I have stepped up in the time-line queue and replaced both of my parents at the peak of our family pyramid. In an uncertain time, my son will replace me in the next queue.

What I don’t foresee is that my son will return and bring me abundant joys and my garden will prosper keeping memories alive. He’ll bring a girl home for me to meet. I’ll plant the corner shaded by the massive oak tree in hostas with huge paddle-shaped green/blue leaves that that send up sturdy stalks of waxy white trumpet blooms.

He’ll give this special girl a diamond ring. I’ll plant white and pink crepe myrtles along with purple and crimson chrysanthemums for their fall engagement party in my garden. One year later, on a hot summer day, he and his fiancée will fittingly marry in her mother’s Vermont garden by the lake surrounded by spectacular blooms.

Three years later this gloriously happy couple will present me with my first grand child. I’ll plant a weeping cherry tree in my granddaughter’s honor to replace that huge oak that was squeezed to despair then death by the tenacious vine. I’ll thread blooming plants like shiny satin ribbons of purple, orange, yellow and pink for this grand daughter’s spring christening celebration in my garden.

Just one year later, I’ll plant a white hydrangea tree, in anticipation of the birth of a second grand daughter due the following fall. I’ll then repeat the joyous cycle of threading vibrant ribbons of blooming color for this grand daughter’s christening celebration in my spring garden.

If I loosen the ties, if I endure the heart-crackling moments of separations to come, if I have faith that I have planted experiences, joys, and traditions well in my garden of life and if I am quiet, if I am patient, joy will triumph over all separation sorrows.

When age trumps life and another cloud falls to earth, I’ll be the silhouette who silently passes through my garden gate for my last time. My son will watch me go. When age has shaped my spine like a question mark, I won’t be able to turn my head to give my son a final parting glance over my curved shoulder. With a splintering tug, I will try to give him my final assurance that he and his three treasured women will thrive.

When nature snakes me away I, too, will reside in this vessel that is my garden. . . my earthly journey ended. I’ll leave my joys, catalogued in flowers, behind for those I have loved well. My spirit will glide out the gate leaving a floral fragrance. My soul will gently fold into the eternal peace of my final separation.

——————————————————-
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Separations

By DiAna Hart Smith

He doesn’t pause. He doesn’t turn to look back. He leaves me aching for the times when he was little and he would stop, turn his head and look over his small shoulder to see if I was still there watching out for him. Now as an adult, he just goes. Leaves.

Through the cloud that has fallen to earth here in my garden, I watch my only child, my son, pass through my garden gate. He walks confidently…tall, erect, right elbow crooked so his hand fits neatly into his pants pocket. This is no casual jaunt. He’s leaving my tender care, my home, my garden to walk alone out into the world.

My heart fractures. My head knows that it is time. My resolve is to share his joy at his own independence, but he’s leaving my household and that’s all I can get my heart around.

Light just begins to slip around and blur the edges of darkness in my garden reflecting the uncertainty of his new world and my new world. Ferns, transplanted from his father’s old home place in Appalachia, form a fringe frame of my son’s silhouette exiting from our comfortable mother-son life that we’ve known living together for a bit more than two decades. My son and I sped through our mother-son journey that was

crammed-to-bursting with activity. Just blurs of vibrant colors weave our remembrance tapestry.

Now, my son and I will each share a dose of separation. Emotions swirl and collide as I give him my blessing. “Have a vibrant life; live fiercely,” I call out into the void behind him. I ask myself, “Have I armed him with all he’ll need out there in the great beyond? Was my wisdom too little, too archaic, too much or too often?”

My son drives off; he’s gone. Am I prepared? From his infancy, I knew this day would one day be his and mine to experience. He’ll live in his first apartment and pay the rent himself. I realize that I’m on my way to being a woman of a “certain age.” Age is breaking out all over me and I’m feeling quite under siege.

My misty eyes slide to a vine suspended in the air, stenciled on the mist. I turn and resume coaxing the vine off the old oak tree that soars fifty feet reaching for the sky. It’s work freeing the vine’s tendrils that have stapled themselves into the tree’s bark. Unattended this vine would seemingly squeeze this massive oak to despair in its attempt to cover and protect.

Unlike this vine, I hope I knew when to attach, hover and protect and when to peel back and not impose my impact on my son’s space. I tear great lengths of the strong choking vine from the tree. Yards of leaf covered streamers wave in the air then collapse in a wilted heap on the ground exhausted by separation.

Suddenly I am aware of many separations – temporary and permanent – coming toward me. Separations now resonate much louder and have become the crow’s caw harshly interrupting the wren’s sweet song. Separations have become a part of my life. I have stepped up in the time-line queue and replaced both of my parents at the peak of our family pyramid. In an uncertain time, my son will replace me in the next queue.

What I don’t foresee is that my son will return and bring me abundant joys and my garden will prosper keeping memories alive. He’ll bring a girl home for me to meet. I’ll plant the corner shaded by the massive oak tree in hostas with huge paddle-shaped green/blue leaves that that send up sturdy stalks of waxy white trumpet blooms.

He’ll give this special girl a diamond ring. I’ll plant white and pink crepe myrtles along with purple and crimson chrysanthemums for their fall engagement party in my garden. One year later, on a hot summer day, he and his fiancée will fittingly marry in her mother’s Vermont garden by the lake surrounded by spectacular blooms.

Three years later this gloriously happy couple will present me with my first grand child. I’ll plant a weeping cherry tree my grand daughter’s honor to replace that huge oak that was squeezed to despair then death by the tenacious vine. I’ll thread blooming plants like shiny satin ribbons of purple, orange, yellow and pink for this grand daughter’s spring christening celebration in my garden.

Just one year later, I’ll plant a white hydrangea tree, in anticipation of the birth of a second grand daughter due the following fall. I’ll then repeat the joyous cycle of threading vibrant ribbons of blooming color for this grand daughter’s christening celebration in my spring garden.

If I loosen the ties, if I endure the heart-crackling moments of separations to come, if I have faith that I have planted experiences, joys, and traditions well in my garden of life and if I am quiet, if I am patient, joy will triumph over all separation sorrows.

When age trumps life and another cloud falls to earth, I’ll be the silhouette who silently passes through my garden gate for my last time. My son will watch me go. When age has shaped my spine like a question mark, I won’t be able to turn my head to give my son a final parting glance over my curved shoulder. With a splintering tug, I will try to give him my final assurance that he and his three treasured women will thrive.

When nature snakes me away I, too, will reside in this vessel that is my garden. . . my earthly journey ended. I’ll leave my joys, catalogued in flowers, behind for those I have loved well. My spirit will glide out the gate leaving a floral fragrance. My soul will gently fold into the eternal peace of my final separation.


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