I had lunch with a guy this week and we started our conversation agreeing that we are sick to death of talking about the fires.
Then we proceeded to spend most of an hour talking about the fires.
Even when our talk turned to other matters, the fires remained in the background. Things that had seemed all-consumingly interesting back in September – local gossip, infighting, political intrigue – suddenly seem rather trivial.
The fires have certainly weighed on me. I’ve had plenty of near-death kinds of experiences over the years – close calls on the highway, teetering on roofs, cliffs and ladders, even the occasional physical threat – but this was different. It was an extended period of existential menace. Every cloud of smoke, every fire truck that whizzed by was evidence of nature’s massive and indifferent power to kill us.
“That was intense,” our City Editor Kevin Courtney reflected this week, holding one of the front pages from the height of the fires.
Intense indeed. It seems to have accomplished something rare and significant – it brought us all together, everyone across the normally fractured and insular region. I have always liked to remind people in Napa County that “we’re all in this together,” but these fires finally made that a visceral reality.
It also cut through my carefully tended crusty journalistic exterior. It’s hard not to get emotional about the danger, the fear, the devastation, the heroism, the generosity, and the recovery that were part of this extended story.
So I am going to indulge in that most sentimental of journalistic clichés – a column explaining why I am thankful on Thanksgiving.
While my heart breaks for those who lost lives and property, I am thankful my family and my staff are safe. I am thankful that my city is still standing and that no other Napa County city suffered a major blow like Santa Rosa. I am thankful that Santa Rosa didn’t get it even worse.
I am thankful for all the firefighters, police officers and National Guard members who helped fight the fires and keep us safe. I know it was part of their job descriptions, but, seriously – thanks.
I am thankful for all the volunteers and relief organizations and philanthropies and foundations that stepped in to offer relief. In many cases it wasn’t their job at all, but they did it anyway.
I am thankful for my staff, which went way beyond the call of duty to bring as much news and information to the public as possible, sometimes at the risk of their own safety.
I am thankful for the opportunity to lead this staff. As I have discussed here before, this is something of a second act in journalism for me, having spent 10 years off in the wilderness freelancing and raising my sons. It is only by luck and by the kindness of several employers that I’ve had this chance.
And I am thankful for you, the readers. You’re the reason we do this. Your subscription revenue, and the advertisements your businesses place with us, make this expensive work possible. Your kind words during and after the fires mean a lot. Even your criticism means a lot – it shows you care enough to be disappointed when we don’t do well.
Happy Thanksgiving. This year especially, it is OK to be unabashedly thankful.