The Story Of the Fire
ON the laid-back Saturday of Labor Day Weekend,
a chill wind blew in from the North...
at about 40 miles an hour. A very big, very gusty wind.
The Dollmaker was putzing around, enjoying the cool weather, when
the Light suddenly got real yellow.
The curious Dollmaker went outside... Hmmm... smells like smoke...
She ran inside and called 911.
"There's a gigantic plume of smoke in the sky!"
The dispatcher replied: "Yes, we know. There's a fire at FM 1441 and Hwy 21."
The Dollmaker started tearing the map drawer apart searching for the county map.
She located the fire and realized that, as the crow flies, that monster fire fueled by
dead trees and fanned by a 40 mile an hour wind coming from the north- that fire
was only seven miles away to the northwest.
Nobody had to tell the Dollmaker to start packing.
Within a half an hour the fire was raging past her property to the West,
traveling North to South. By that time the Dollmaker had become entangled and
detangled in computer wiring trying to get the computer into the van, rounded up the
dog, searched unsuccessfully for cats and chickens, ran around in circles repeating
the names of deities, threw anything that was within reach into the back seat, and
paused, trembling, at the wheel of her van, at the end of the driveway, ready to flee,
but NOT AT ALL ready to flee...
The monster fire passed the Dollmaker's Studio, called "The Peach House"
and jumped across Highway 71, heading southwest toward the Colorado River.
The Dollmaker didn't leave. It looked like it was going to be okay. The dedicated
emergency staff kept telling the Dollmaker to "Go. Now."
But the Dollmaker just couldn't leave. She would roll her little van down the highway
but kept circling back at the next intersection.
The wind was blowing the smoke toward Bastrop.
She really thought the worst of it had passed.
Off to the North where the fire had started, the Dollmaker heard more explosions.
Explosions. Geeze! What on earth was exploding out there? Gas tanks?
With every explosion, another black plume would billow up
against the massive white billows already obscuring the tiny red sun.
The Dollmaker cringed as she heard what she guessed to be propane tanks hissing
and ammunition popping, and had to wonder if some of the residents of the forest
might have been stashing bombs in their garages...
and then, tragically, as the sun went down, the wind changed direction.
Soon the Dollmaker was breathing smoke and an Army guy walked up to her window
on foot, noticing her kind of ducking down in her seat,
pretending that her vehicle was unoccupied.
"Ma'am", he said really gently, "The wind has changed
and the fire is coming this way. I'm sorry but you have to leave."
Whereupon he actually rolled his truck along right behind her little van
all the way to the Roadblock area.
...That was how the Dollmaker became "an Evacuee".
For the next three days, the Dollmaker stayed with friends in downtown Smithville,
listening to shreds of information panic-embellished into wild rumors
about the condition of their homes and properties.
Sirens and explosions haunted the Dollmaker and huge plumes in the sky caused her
to frantically re-pack her van every morning with anything she had taken out of it.
The light was yellow and the air was smoky, especially in the mornings,
as she and her friends waited for news from inside the Disaster Zone.
Well, after 48 hours of that, the Dollmaker, armed with a large bag of cat food,
determined to find a way to sneak past the barricades on Highway 71
and get some food to her cats and chickens, if they were still alive in there.
Twice she tried to enter Hwy 71 from a side road, only to be stopped by State Police.
This did not deter the Dollmaker. The back roads were her only chance. They were
narrow and winding and sometimes she had to pull over
because huge trucks carrying bulldozers crowded her off to the side,
as they lumbered through the still-smoldering forest.
She passed through three checkpoints, pointing to the cat food bag each time,
and instead of stopping her, the good firemen gave her directions.
On and on she drove like a crazy woman through the horror...
trembling as she passed thousands of smoking black sticks
which used to be trees.
At the last checkpoint they just waved her through and cheered her on!
"Go go go! You can do it!"
And she made it.
But for some reason, the Dollmaker was just not at all prepared
for the sight which awaited her.
Her home and property were burned to the ground.
The rent house was burned to the ground and all but one of the storage units.
That was the bad news.
It was pretty bad, indeed. Pretty shocking.
But there was good news...
Both of her chickens were alive and okay and bore no resentment, figuring that
everybody just ran away and came back again, and life would just go on as usual.
And two of the three cats, Nacho and Pancho, came running up!
Filthy dirty, hungry, a bit scorched... but overjoyed to see the Dollmaker
(and yes, the cat, Pancho made it through this disaster too- now he is down to seven lives...)
Another bonus! The firemen saved the Dollmaker's Studio (the Peach House).
And inside the Peach House, standing around on tables and shelves, waiting to go to
the Texas Renaissance Festival, were bunches of smokey but intact
Wee Peeple Dolls.
So, the Dollmaker reassured the cats, dumped the bag of cat food on the ground
at the back of the property for the chickens, cats, deer, squirrels and birds,
took some pictures and got out of there,
before the Emergency Staff tried to protect her by kicking her out.
Pretty shook up, she drove away from the mess that used to be her home,
somewhat unable to comprehend what she just saw with her own eyes.
Two days later she acquired a pass to enter the Disaster zone legally.
And as a final touch, a tree had fallen across the driveway.
The Dollmaker sighed. Unbelievable.
With the Texas Renaissance Festival looming...
Opening Day just exactly one month away...
It suddenly hit the Dollmaker that she needed a place to live ...and a place to work.
Zombie-like, she wandered around and ended up in the Smithville Public Library.
"My library book burned." She blurted out.
The librarians settled her in front of a computer and fluttered around assuring her
that they would reorder the book at no charge,
while the Dollmaker sent out a message to her Facebook friends
that she and her dog and her computer needed a place to stay for a while.
About two hours later, the Dollmaker got a call from a dear old friend,
(Remember, she was the Mother Goddess who started the Common Ground Restaurant)
Oh boy. Watch out world. Catherine not only offered a place to stay,
high-speed internet, and a couch for Mason the dog,
but she encouraged the Dollmaker to use her dining room
to set up a Dollmaking Studio
while waiting for the utilities to be turned on in the Peach House.
And! Catherine wanted to make dolls!
Okay. So, the Dollmaker began to gather the materials she would need
People started pitching in- a truck loaded with awesome upholstery fabric samples
pulled up in front of Catherine's house, giant bags of yarn and sewing machines
were dropped off, large plastic totes arrived filled to the brim
with special trims, shells, floral leaves, watches, scissors, thread... everything!
Even little felted doll hats! Checks and Gift Cards arrived in the mail
and the Dollmaker bought tiny paintbrushes, stuffing and hot glue
and ordered a whole bunch of wooden doll bases
from Beverly, Woodworker Extraordinaire.
First, that fallen tree had to go. The Dollmaker hired her friend, Nealie to chop and
carve it into 25 useful stump-seats which did double duty as driveway deterrents.
Daughter Shannon and Company arrived and camped out in the Peach House to growl
at scrap metal hustlers. Friends with bulldozers cleared the property of all that
gnarly metal and the Dollmaker watched her 72' mobile home get squished into a
rectangle which fit neatly into the back of a 16' trailer. Whoa.
The two Suburbans were also loaded and carted off.
After two weeks, the missing cat, Joy, (aka: The Baby) came home!
Other than a few crispy whiskers, she looked pretty good.
After three weeks green sprouts
emerged from the trunk of the charred Texas Vitex Tree
and the Library replaced the burned library book, which the Dollmaker took out
again, but she hasn't really had a chance to read much of it yet.
Over the years, the Dollmaker estimates that she had collected
probably close to a million little things.
After the fire, there were still probably several hundred thousand little things
scattered in amongst the ashes. Pottery, coins, stone carvings,
fascinating metal shapes, a miniature teapot collection, a few White Wizards,
wickedly blackened tools and silverware,
fossils, iron and glass gnarled into abstraction...
It is truly amazing to see what survived. Excavating through the rubble
the Dollmaker saw raw materials for Doll Constructions
EVERYWHERE! So MANY odd twisted shapes!
And as for those Wee Peeple Dolls who survived the Fire
Facebook friends started calling them
Even though they lost most of their smoke smell as they aired out,
the Smokey Dolls
having been blessed by Fate to be allowed to stand their ground
and somehow survive "The biggest Disaster in Texas History"
were all stamped on the bottom to identify and honor them
The "Smokey Doll" Stamp.
On the Wooden Base of the Doll
Okay. Now for the Dollmaker's thoughts on all this...
In all of that wreckage, there stood a statue of the Great Mother
completely undamaged. The Dollmaker stood before her, wanting to know...WHY?
The weathered white arms of the Backyard Goddess
lifted before the ruins
as she seemed to whisper quietly,
"This is a Blessing. You'll see."
For centuries, Tibetan Monks have painstakingly created
intricate and beautiful Mandalas using colored sand,
with the conscious intention of destroying the creation when they are finished.
The Dollmaker clearly saw the results of her labors of love turned to ash.
Right. HOWEVER, she also found that a great burden was lifted
off of her shoulders- Frankly, she never liked being a landlady,
didn't really want to live in a mobile home for the rest of her life;
she was watering twice a day and still the trees were dying...
The Dollmaker respectfully lays all that to rest.
The Home, the Work, the Art... all served their purpose.
This was not a tragedy as much as it was a Rite of Passage.
She also learned that...
It all goes away, but then, like the Tide, it all comes back!
Wee Peeple Doll Constructions just moved temporarily into Catherine's Dining-Room!
So All is Still Well.
A GREAT BIG THANKS TO THE MANY INCREDIBLE PEOPLE
WHO HELPED THE DOLLMAKER GET THROUGH THIS RITE OF PASSAGE!
LOVE AND BLESSINGS TO YOU ALL!
My house burned down.
Now I have a clearer view
of the rising moon.
What happened in the Year that followed....
is still being written...
Art Dolls Only
512-332-6680 cell phone only
PO Box 326 Smithville, TX 78957
and Thanks goes out to: