May 25th, 2019
Highway 99 runs almost the entire way, north/south, through the Central Valley of California. Karin and I hooked up with the road near its northern end, close to Oregon. We came out of the Sierra Nevadas, and turned on to 99 just south of Chico. Then we drove north on the highway toward Vina. We planned on spending the night at New Clairvaux, a Trappist monastery located near that little town.
We had been on this same highway two years ago, when we visited the monastery for the first time. Highway 99 is mostly just a two lane road that winds through the farm country. It goes past numerous orchards and vineyards. Two years ago, the traffic seemed lighter. Maybe I remembered wrong, but this time the road seemed more crowded and drivers seemed to be more stressed. I certainly was.
We met a friend at New Clairvaux, and she took us to her home in Los Molinos for dinner. Los Molinos is only a few miles away from the monastery. As she drove on 99, she commented on the traffic.
“You see all of the dump trucks? They are hauling refuse away from Paradise. These trucks fill this road all day, every day. They expect to be hauling refuse from Paradise for the next three years.”
I asked, “So, what is it all?”
She told us, “It’s all of their…stuff. Things that burned up in the fire last year. It’s all toxic.”
“So, where are the trucks taking it all?”
Our friend told us that were two dumping sites, one north of Paradise and one to the south. I forget the names of the towns. I asked her,
“What do they do with all this toxic waste at these dumps?”
She didn’t know.
I found out at dinner that our friends had owned a home in Paradise. I never knew that before. They moved to Los Molinos a few years ago, in order to be closer to their work. The house in Paradise stayed on the market for a long time. They finally sold it. Then the Camp Fire hit struck the area and devastated everything. Paradise burned to the ground, and that included their old house.
The talk about the fire reminded me of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Our friends spoke about how people from the local area had fled to towns like Chico and Red Bluff after the fire, and now these people were unsure of their futures. Can they rebuild in Paradise? The water there is now contaminated. Can they ever go back?
I went with our son, Stefan, on a class trip to New Orleans in 2008. That was three years after the hurricane, and the city was still devastated. We went there to help, in some small way, with the rebuilding of New Orleans. Nearly half of the city was abandoned at that point in time. Almost half of the population gave up on their homes and simply left, never to return. While in Crescent City, I walked with Stefan and his class through neighborhoods which were empty. I had never seen such desolation.
I thought about the town of Paradise. It struck me that it was the same sort of situation. People had been driven from their homes, and they had lost everything. Most of these people were never going back again. It was just like in New Orleans. The only difference was that it was fire, not water, that destroyed their lives.
Will anybody return to Paradise?