As the Lake Christine Fire begins to be contained, valley residents are picking up the pieces. They’re unpacking their go-bags, sweeping ash from their doorsteps and checking on their neighbors. For some, the emotions of the past week may just be sinking in. Last Sunday, the Art Base in Basalt opened its doors to the community and offered a free “Art, Healing and HOPE” class, meant to help residents relieve stress and start to heal.
Arts and culture reporter Christin Kay attended the class to see how community members were using art as a way to process their experiences during the fire.
Smoke and haze filled the air. Basalt Mountain was still smoldering. There was a constant hum of helicopters delivering water to hot spots. Sheri Gaynor was hunting through cabinets for the best tools she knew of to help people in times of crisis.
"I’m looking for the good watercolor brushes," she said.
She admitted that she felt a little rattled that morning. She’d been volunteering at the Basalt shelter, doing art projects with kids who were evacuated. The Lake Christine fire brought back the worry and uncertainty she felt during Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam fire in 2002, when she had to leave her home. Last week, when wildfire whipped through midvalley’s mountains, she knew she had to help.
"When I got up at 12:30 I just said I have to do something when I saw. I don’t care. I’m not waiting for an invitation," said Gaynor.
Ten participants trickled in as Gaynor finished setting up. Some apologized for being a little late, but Gaynor knew that normal schedules were disrupted. She started the class by acknowledging the impact that the Lake Christine Fire had on the community.
"So it’s been a rough time in our valley. Many of us have had friends and loved ones under threat," she acknowledged.
She went on to explain that attendees could use collage, paint and journaling to help them work through the stress of the past few days.
Basalt resident Diane Argenzio had the day’s paper set out beside her. She was cutting out pictures of the fire on the front page. She was one of the people who came in a little late; just that morning, she re-entered her home after being evacuated.
"Wednesday I left my house at 9 in the morning and at 9:30 at night. Oh, it was the Fourth of July; my neighbor called and said you better get home. We’re getting out of here. The fire came over the hill," she said.
Argenzio didn’t know quite what she was feeling.
“It’s been like living in this weird dream of seeing this devastation and the intensity. I mean, my God, these planes and everything they’ve been doing and it’s right where I live,” she said.
She almost didn’t come to the class, but knew making art was what she needed.
"I want to remember this. I want to deeply remember the gratitude I have and the courage that some people have that I just can’t fathom," said Argenzio.
Another attendee, Diana Morales, lives in Carbondale. On the Fourth of July, she went with her family to Glenwood. She returned that afternoon.
“And after that was chaos. Just checking every report, every news, calling my friends,” Morales said.
She packed her bags, preparing for the worst. And that process of scanning her house, looking for what to take, made her think about what was really essential.
“Albums. Just pictures. That’s the most important thing, and the stuff, like my TV? I saved money for that stuff. Eh. Doesn’t matter,” she said.
She kept her bags by the door just in case, and felt lucky that she didn’t ever have to throw them in her car to run from the fire’s path. But she was still terrified for the whole valley. She called everyone here her family. She was hoping making art would help relieve her grief and fear.
“We hear, don’t cry, don’t feel bad, because other people are feeling worse. But at some point, we have our own stuff. Maybe it’s not bad, but we need to be aware of that, not just keep it inside," said Morales.
Gaynor told the class that long-time residents of the Roaring Fork Valley have seen regeneration and new growth after devastating fires. She said it’s a metaphor for trauma and healing.
“There can be suffering, and at the same time, there’s great beauty. For me, in this week that we’ve just experienced together, the outpouring of love and really the human spirit. I really think it is why we all live here,” said Gaynor.
Like those green shoots that will eventually emerge from the ash on the hillsides, these Roaring Fork Valley residents have the art they are creating as a visual reminder of resilience.