Can you see her? Little Sugar Plum discovering snow for the first time.
When I moved up to my cabin in Mt. Baldy in 2007, I did so in the company of Boo Radley and Sugar Plum, my two black cats. I still had to go to work down the mountain every day, so my two companions would spend each day while I was gone either down in the basement chasing mice out of the house or up in the loft, where they could watch birds at eye level.
We'd lived there one year when a man who was camping with his daughter accidentally started a forest fire in a canyon below us on a very cold, very windy night. When my neighbor called to alert me to the fire burning several miles south of us, I called in sick to work. My cabin was not in immediate danger, but I worried that if I drove down the mountain, I wouldn't be allowed back up, and there's no way I would have left my cats up there alone.
As the fire pushed its way up the canyon toward my neighborhood, the neighbors kept in close contact, working out exit strategies. There is only one road that leads up and down the mountain, but there is a dirt Forest Service road that goes up to the ski lift and over the mountain, down the far side. We would caravan in our trucks if need be, only leaving if we absolutely had to. We had been advised earlier by the Forest Service that if our cabins caught fire, they would be allowed to burn; no fire crews would be risked to try to save them. If my cabin caught fire, I would lose just about everything I owned except what I could fit in my Tacoma--and the cat carriers took up most of the space.
After several days, though, the Hot Shots and other crews contained and controlled the fire, though there were still some hot spots burning deep in a few side canyons. Before I returned to work, I made sure that if the fire flared up again and law enforcement closed the road, I could still get home. I'd have to walk, and it would take me four hours or so (as near as I could figure), but I devised a plan with a friend who would drop me at the base of the mountain where I could follow the creek trail to the village. Then I could simply walk the road the rest of the way up to my cabin. If I had to walk out carrying two cat carriers down the mountain, I would. No cats left behind....
I promised them that. Every time we had a big storm, friends down the mountain would offer guest rooms and couches so that I didn't have to drive to work or home in treacherous conditions. I would have happily taken them up on their offers had it not been for the two furry individuals who waited for my return every afternoon.
One winter a sudden and severe storm developed while I was at work. From outside my classroom door, I could look up to the mountain, and I knew it was bad. As soon as the last bell rang, I ran to the parking lot, jumped in the truck, and headed up the mountain. By the time I reached the switchbacks (the steep, winding road that led up to the ski lifts and my cabin), the California Highway Patrol had closed the road and officers were escorting drivers down. But I had to go up. My cats were up there. "Not without chains," the CHP officer told me. "We're in blizzard conditions." So I had to turn around and go back to the village to put on the cables I always carried in winter. When I stepped out of the truck in the post office parking lot, I was pelted with freezing rain. (It's a lot like having a Slurpee thrown at you... or a lot of Slurpees all at once... with no lovely sugary sweet flavor.) Still, with the help of a neighbor, we got the cables on quickly, and I headed back to attempt to get up the switchbacks. If I couldn't drive, I would have to walk the three miles, but by then the sun was beginning to set, so I'd be doing it in the dark if I didn't hurry.
The five minute drive took twenty-five that afternoon. Slowly but surely, I wound my way up that icy road. When I reached the top, the narrow road to my cabin was covered in a foot of snow and ice, so I found a safe place to tuck in the truck for the night, grabbed my backpack and started walking.
Snowfall is beautiful, and I love walking in it. But a blizzard includes high winds that whip the tiny ice crystals across your face and into your eyes (even if you're wearing glasses). I tried to trudge with my head down, but doing so caused me to take a wrong turn in the waning light, and I ended up disoriented at the end of a side road that led to another cabin. 'Take a breath and go back the way you came,' I told myself. I did, and it worked. I found the road again, and finally made it home just as total darkness fell. Both cats were waiting for me at the front door--and they nearly fled when they saw me. I was completely covered with ice and snow. But I was home. And we were safe.
"I told you," I said, as they huddled nearby, watching me shed several pounds of soaked clothing, "I will always come home. I will never leave you here."
The back side of my cabin after the blizzard of 2010.
I think what made me feel so strongly about never leaving them behind was watching the heartbreaking news coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My mom was living with me at the time, and we watched together as Coast Guard and law enforcement helicopters plucked survivors off porches and rooftops, often forcing them against their will to leave their pets behind.
Best Friends, the animal rescue group based in Kanab, Utah, were the ones that organized the biggest concerted effort to go into New Orleans and the surrounding areas just days after the storm ended to rescue dogs and cats that had been left behind. Hundreds and hundreds of dogs and cats. As days went by and the extent of the devastation from Katrina unfolded, I mentioned to Mom that I felt like I should send a donation to Best Friends. "I already wrote a check for a hundred bucks," she told me. "I just don't know where to send it." My mom, my hero. I went online, found the address, wrote out a check myself, and mailed both in the same envelope the next day.
Nowadays, of course, it's much easier to donate, just a couple of clicks.
And we've learned. As you watch the coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the rescue effort now taking place, you will see people being helped to safety--along with their dogs and cats. In all, 600,000 dogs died or were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. That won't be the case this time, but there will still be a huge need for groups like Best Friends to rescue pets that were left when people were caught away from home when the hurricane hit. I have no doubt that a team from Best Friends is already preparing to gear up and meet that need as soon as they can possibly get to Houston.
If you'd like to help with that effort, it only takes a few clicks to donate. Click on the link below, and it will take you to the Best Friends site. In my opinion, you're a hero if you do!
Click here to donate to Best Friends.