I grew up in Tollhouse, California, a small, unincorporated community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Although it has been many years since I moved to the city, I still feel a connection to the foothills, as they are inextricably attached to my childhood.
On September 4, 2020, the Creek Fire sparked near Shaver Lake. Burning almost 400,000 acres, the fire has become the biggest in California history, causing millions of dollars of damage and impacting the lives of many rural communities.
As soon as I heard the news of the fire, I tracked it obsessively, watching the area it consumed grow bigger and bigger. I watched it inch closer to the places that had meant so much to me—the church my family used to go to every Sunday, the library that fostered my love of reading, and my childhood home, the house on top of the hill that I had watched my dad build from the ground up.
Massive and unprecedented crises like COVID-19 have made it seem like the world is on fire, and, as time progresses, it has been made more and more clear that we will never go back to the way things were. During the course of the pandemic, I’ve turned 18, moved out, and started my first semester of college. Like many members of our generation, I am learning how to be an adult in the midst of a massive upheaval of my life as I once knew it. I look back at my childhood, the safety and comfort of the life I used to live, and see nothing but ash.
The last time we drove away from our old house in Tollhouse, before moving to Fresno, I imagined one day showing my own children around the foothills, taking them to the places that meant so much to me when I was a child. But now I will never be able to show them the world that I grew up in. Instead, I can show them how things grow out of ash, how, even in the wake of destruction, life begins to take root once more.
It is difficult to grasp that our lives will never be the same, that the effects of the crisis we are experiencing now will impact us for decades to come. In addition to the task of adjusting to a new way of life, our generation has been saddled with the burden of fixing the world we will one day inherit. We are living through a time characterized by so much pain and destruction, but, as we grow up and begin to pick up the pieces of our broken world, we will be given the opportunity to build something better.