I've lived in California my entire life with the exception of a brief stint in Virginia and Maryland, but until last week I'd never experienced a real California wildfire. Earthquakes, sure, but fire always stayed at a comfortable enough distance.
When I picked my daughter up from school with fire just across the street, I admit I panicked. Of course, parents keep all that panic on the inside, and tell the kids everything is going to be fine, but there is something about seeing fire encroach on your normal life that hits in a really profound way. When we got home I calmed her down, and got started on our evacuation checklist. We hadn't been ordered to evacuate, but the winds were high and while no structures had caught yet, I was afraid that if one did, things would spread too quickly.
A friend came to help me figure out what to pack, and take things that wouldn't fit in the car (I have two large breed dogs, two cats, a kid, and... a Volkswagen Beetle). After the important paperwork, the next step was books. Now, every room in my house has a bookcase. The goal was never to take all the books. We started with my collection of first and rare edition Stephen King books, and I turned around my office. "I need to take some of these," I said, looking at the shelf above my desk where my favorite books live. "I'll just take the signed ones."
It didn't take long for me to realize how ridiculous that statement was in the context of "paring down" what was going into my friend's car. A good seventy percent of my friends are authors, and when I get someone's book, I like to have them sign it for me, sort of like a high school year book with a better story. We weighed down her sedan with at least a hundred books. I had just enough time to realize I couldn't do anything with the art in the house before it looked like the fire had been contained on our side. Unfortunately, it continued for another couple hundred acres, but our neighborhood was safe.
I kept everything ready to go in case of a change in the wind, and thought about what I grabbed when faced with ranking all of my personal belongings by importance. The fire safe full of our social security cards, birth certificates, and assorted paperwork was a given. Computers and harddrives with family photos and my work. A bracelet that belonged to my grandmother and a necklace that belonged to my other grandmother. And... books. Books. Books.
I feel pretty good about my choices. But now I have to reshelve all those books!