The Day of Fire and Wind

Excerpts from my Journal: Part 6.

Written November 9, 2018; edited 2021.

Kathryn and I, on the east ramp.

We knew it was going to get hot—86 degrees—but we did not know the winds would be so fierce, up to 77 miles per hour!

Kathryn insisted we get there before sunrise, but there was a lot going on that day and Juan was unable to pick us up until after it rose. So it goes.

They were pouring cement on the west side. Truck after truck after truck drove past us in the parking area while we waited for Juan. There were cement trucks all over the bridge, driving up, emptying out, making three-point turns, driving down. Other vehicles moved about tending to business. Guys were everywhere between vehicles. Organized chaos.

The arms that pumped cement from the trucks to the bridge looked like two enormous spider legs, the daddy longlegs variety. 

We inched our way to the top, only to discover they were sandblasting today in our usual spot. Next, JJ took us to the east side, but there was too much going on there, too, and he didn’t even try to get through. Instead, he took us to a new location, on what will one day be an on or off ramp, where nothing was happening. He deposited us across from a port-a-potty and helped us set up the tent. If it got windy, we were to text him, and he would bring some anchors.

As we looked over the landscapes to determine exactly where we would paint, we spotted an enormous cloud of smoke on the horizon. Obviously a fire somewhere. (Later we would find out it was the Woolsey Fire in Malibu.) The cloud looked like a monster in the sky; it even had a mouth-like opening. There was more smoke lower down, at the bottom of the hills. We surmised, correctly, that there was a second fire somewhere.

(Above photo by Kathryn Babcock.)

It took forever to set up. We kept moving back and forth, trying to readjust ourselves to a new location. We finally set up just down from on of those cement highway barriers. We set up the tent, attached the side wall (that has holes cut into it to let the wind thru), and found a large 4 x 4 pieces of wood to anchor the side wall.

We set up our materials and began drawing. Finally. The wind started to get frisky and the tent began to lift off. We grabbed it and another gust pulled it harder.

Fernando, construction supervisor, happened by, saw two women with green hardhats wrestling with a tent, and stopped to help. We moved the tent down to the cement barrier. Fernando had wire and tools in his truck, and he helped anchor the tent to the cement barrier—it was going nowhere!

We set up our materials and began drawing. I was using watercolor, so I had a plastic container filled with water, a palette, and my watercolor tablet. Suddenly a huge gust of wind slapped us, flipping all my materials to the ground. It just picked up the water container and pushed it off the table!

We rescued our materials but grit was everywhere—in the paint, in the art boxes, in our eyes. I mentioned that it might not be a good day to paint. Kathryn suggested we hunker down under the wall which really did not provide an optimum paint setup. We tried painting one more time. The wind blew my camp stool over before I could sit down, which knocked my drinking water over; I lost two thirds of it. I don’t even know what Kathryn was doing.

I set up my paint. The wind was so strong I had trouble holding the brush and there was so much grit it was in the paint when I tried to apply it to the paper.

Another massive burst of wind bent the metal of the tent in on one side. Although the tent wasn’t going anywhere, it was beginning to implode. I turned to Kathryn. “This is not going to work. I am texting Juan.”

In order to close the tent, we had to take the top off. It was impossible to fold anything, so we just rolled the tent top and the side flaps into two balls and set them on the ground. Two more workers drove by slowly, checking to see if we needed help. I just smiled and they headed on; we had things under control, so to speak.

Juan arrived while we were packing up. He could see how wind-blown we were. He’d been so busy he had not even noticed the smoke, which reared its ugly head even larger than before and now spanned the whole northwestern horizon.

Between the vast amounts of smoke, the powerful winds, and the grit in our eyes, it was a very strange day. We only lasted four hours and got very little accomplished. My hands were so dried out by the wind that my skin looked all cracked, as though I were eighty years old. 

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