“Forged in Flames” debuts Sept. 4

Austin’s KUT News radio will debut their hour-long audio documentary and oral history interactive website on the 2011 wildfires on September 4.  The Ristow family was one of over 100 families who participated in the documentary and will also be featured on the website.  For more information read the KUT press release below:



Before & After: Oak Tree

December 30, 2007

Some stories are best told through images.  I’ve shown the progression of our favorite oak tree before but here it is updated with our latest image…as the last remaining tree on our lot.

October 10, 2008

September 6, 2011

June 26, 2012

Property Update: Cleared!

Cleared of all trees, except one.

While I was away working at the Lutheran Church Texas District Convention on a video project, Aspen Tree Service was working on clearing our lot of all remaining trees, save for one.  Working steadily both Saturday and Sunday, Aspen knocked over the approximately 70+ pines that still stood along with random cedars and yaupons bringing a close to nearly 9 months of clean-up on our property since the September 4 wildfires ravaged our area.

As I drove up this morning to see the result I was both humbled and encouraged.  It certainly looked very different having the trees cleared.

“It looks good!” a voice called out to me.  I looked over toward Daniel’s property and there was his wife, Maria, smiling.  She had been working in their gardens.

“It really does!” I said to her.  “I’m surprised.  It takes some adjusting to but its nice to see it cleared.”

We chatted for a bit until my appointment arrived and I waved goodbye to Maria.  My meeting today was with Tommy, a fire investigator with Quest Fire Analysis, whom I had met along with a private investigator at a prior coffee shop meeting in Austin.  Working for insurance companies they were working to discover more about the causes of the fires and were most focused on and interested in the easement area.  Tommy and I were meeting so that I could share my story about the events on the day of the fire and pinpoint what I saw and exactly where.  I recounted the events of that windy September 4 afternoon, now seeming so long ago, as we walked the property.

While we talked, Ben, who had tagged along with me, was running around the acreage playing in the sand and dirt, discovering new adventures on our now tree-less property.  Well…tree-less except for one.  Tracy and I had both agreed we wanted to leave that lone oak tree up, even though it was clearly dead.  It had been such a unique tree in our yard that we wanted some familiar element to remain on the now very unfamiliar property.

And so it now stands, a lone sentry on an otherwise empty lot, holding quiet vigil over our now barren acre.

As Tommy and I finished up our chat, Daniel came over and we talked for a bit too.  He marveled at how quickly the Aspen crew tore up all of our trees and made quick work of bulldozing them down and piling them up for hauling away.  Tommy and I wrapped up our business, Daniel and I said goodbye for now, and Ben and lagged behind at the property long enough to snap a few photos before heading out back home to Austin.  It was only about 10 am and it was already getting incredibly hot!  Besides, new developments were underway regarding a possible future home for our family and I needed to get back to attend to those plans.

Lone sentry.

So, yet another stage of this long process comes to a close.  Once the pile of trees stacked at both the front and back right-of-way on our property, and the remaining concrete foundation pieces piled at the front, are hauled off then we will be completely wrapped up with the post-fire clean-up and debris removal.  Its been a length, tiring process.  Part of me is sad to see such an empty lot.  But part of me is also glad to be done with this part of our journey.

I’d have to agree with Daniel’s wife, Maria:  It does look good.  At the very least it does look better cleaned up as opposed to the sticks of dead trees that covered the acre only a few short days ago.

Now we can move forward, focused on revitalizing the landscape for the future.  And that’s something I’m actually looking forward to.

Reverse angle on our now tree-less lot.

Property Update: Nearing the End of Clean-Up, Looking Ahead

Welcome home.

Here we are.  It has been 9 months since the fire destroyed our home in Circle D in Bastrop.  The bulk of the clean-up is complete.  After our last work day wrapped it has become easier to start the process of thinking about what to do for the revitalization of our property.

Even though there are still about 70-some pine trees to cut down and various other smaller trees, the clean-up process is nearing the end.  After all, we had started right after the fire with sifting through the rubble and debris, moved on to separating and clearing away the metal, then sifting through and shoveling ash,  continued with clearing away the brick, then had the concrete foundation destroyed and piled up.  Then, most recently, at our May 19th work day, we moved on to the trees when volunteers helped us clear away over 30 pine trees along with a host of cedars and smaller trees.  Bluebonnet Electric and the county had been very involved too early on in clearing away some pine trees that were near power lines.  I felt pretty assured we would get the rest of the pines down slowly over the next few weeks or couple of months.

I headed out to Bastrop to get my routine update on the property  and started thinking more seriously about how to re-shape it for the future.  The May 21 deadline had come and gone and while the county had not yet cleared all the debris, they had clearly been there since my last trip.  Some of the concrete foundation pieces were moved around, perhaps some even missing, and others had been labeled with green paint, assumedly for future hauling off.  The county had cleared away the trees we had piled up at the front of the property during the last work day.  None of the debris pile from the back of the property had been hauled off or disturbed, however.

Tagged for hauling.

Debris pile in the right-of-way (ROW) at the rear of our property, the result of our last work day.

As I walked around the property inspecting the land – studying the signs of erosion, looking for signs of wildlife, searching for new plant growth – I found a few signs of recent activity and life.

First I found a series of deer tracks imprinted in the mud.  This isn’t new.  I’ve been observing deer tracks on our property off and on for awhile now.  But every time I come across them it just reminds me of the days when we would watch from inside the house as deer slowly ambled up from the easement into our backyard and nibbled on the sweet grass.  I wonder if its the same family of deer from before the fire?  If so maybe they remember our property as one of the safe havens to come and visit, despite all the changes.

Deer track.

The other discovery of this visit was some new plant growth: pink petunias.  They seem to be randomly popping up all over the place.  They add another splash of much-needed color to the landscape.  Earlier in the spring we had yellow sunflowers all over the property.  There’s still a few of those left, although most have died off now that summer is underway.  But the petunias seem to still keep on sprouting up.   I had to take a photo of one.  It was a petunia growing up near one of the pines we had felled during the last work day but not yet hauled off .  The stark contrast of that pink flower against the black-charred, sooty bark reminded me of how, as Jeff Goldblum’s character phrased it in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”

All things new.

Personally, though, I’d rather think in terms of the grand design that is this incredible world God created, in all its masterful complexity and scale, and say:  “God knew the way”.

Property Update: Work Day Recap

Chainsaws get prepped as Phil Hohle (center) and Jason Hard (right) arrived at the property around 7 am to begin felling trees.

God’s servants in action.  That’s the thought that keeps coming to my mind when I think of our most recent work day held on Saturday, May 19, when 27 volunteers gathered on our property in Bastrop to help us out with tree cutting and hauling debris.  What an amazing group!

The day started at 7 am as I pulled up in front of the property.  Waiting for me was my friend from Giddings, Jason Hard, ready with his chainsaw to begin work.  As I later found out, he had taken time to come out and help our family, even though his mother was in town visiting that weekend.  A short time later, my former college Communications professor and friend, Philip Hohle, arrived with his chainsaw.  He also had volunteered to come out and help, despite the fact that he had a wedding to attend later in the day.  I’m so grateful for both of these men and their commitment to help out.

They started to work right away.  We needed to fell enough trees prior to other volunteers arriving so that we had some debris for them to haul.  After all, that was about all there was left to do on our property at this point: clear the dead trees.


Prior to the work day I had done a rough count of the remaining trees on our property.  I had counted about 100 pine trees still standing, 12 “stubs” of pine trees (partial trees that had burned or broken off during the fire itself), 30-something cedar trees and an odd number of remnants of yaupons and other brush-like trees.  Now keep in mind this is what was left after Bluebonnet Electric and the county had already cleared off a number of trees from both the front and rear of our property late last year and earlier this year.  After the fire our insurance adjuster had initially counted approximately 286 pine trees on our property.

Before long, the center of our property, right where the house once stood, was piled up with 10-12 fallen pine trees.

Cut trees begin to pile up.

As chainsaws went to work on cutting up the fallen hulks, Tracy and the boys arrived.  The boys were excited because they knew their friend, Kevin, would be coming today to help and the ‘Three Musketeers’ would have an opportunity to band together and play.

Ben, Kevin and Matthew.

Tracy, my dear wife, was such an invaluable part of the day.  She took care of so much: bringing the snacks and water; coordinating everything with the ordering, pick-up and delivery of pizzas for everyone for lunch; greeting volunteers as they arrived on-site; helping out with some of the debris clean-up; monitoring the kids around the work-site; and in general, just being an all-around supportive wife.  I am so thankful for her presence.  Without her, the day would not have come off as smoothly as it did.

Other volunteers began arriving throughout the morning:  good friends of ours Gary & Susan and their son, Kevin; Phil, another old friend from my Concordia college days; Jordan Boessling, the Minister of Creative Communications from our church, Christ Lutheran in Austin; also other fellow members of our church: John &  Connie, Gideon & Allison, Bill, and Nathan.

The volunteer group from our church switched to help our family out when plans to work on another Bastrop relief effort fell through.  It was truly a blessing having that whole crew there as well.

Posing with volunteers from our church, Christ Lutheran in Austin.

Cutting up the fallen trees.

Hard at work.

The two Phils.

In addition, Erica Speckman-Green, another friend from my Concordia college days, came and coordinated securing 9 volunteers from her church and youth group from Grace Lutheran Church in Killeen.  Wow.  What a great group of kids and adults!  I have never seen such dedicated youth before.  They took to the task at hand, hauling branches, lifting logs, and even teaming up to coordinate rolling huge logs with their feet.  They worked hard in what quickly turned into a very hot sunny day.  By the end of the work day I think each and every one of them were covered in the black soot that so easily rubbed off the charred trees.  Thanks Grace Lutheran Church and Youth and thanks Erica!   You all made a difference in our lives.

Concordia alums. Erica brought a van load of volunteers from the Grace Lutheran Church in Killeen youth group.

Everyone made a difference.  It was amazing to see so many dedicated servants working hard, covered in soot that – even 9 months later – still rubbed off from the trees, sweating and laboring under the hot sun to help our family out.  We were blessed by everyone’s presence that day – and more than a little humbled.

I recall a moment during the morning where I looked up and saw my boys, along with Kevin, taking a break from their play to help out with hauling branches.  There they were marching in line, their arms loaded with branches, carrying them to the debris pile.  That made me smile in pride.

By the end of the work day, over 30 pine trees and 10 cedar trees had been felled, cut up, moved and piled up at the rear of our property.  Our family could never have done it without the help of such a dedicated group of volunteers.

My one regret is that I didn’t have enough time to really talk at length with everyone out there.  I had brief moments here and there but with so much to do those moments seemed fleeting.  I am grateful, however, to have had even those moments.  It was wonderful to spend time with old friends, new friends and people who cared enough to take the time to help out a family in need.

The Ristow family is truly thankful for everyone’s tireless efforts on that hot Saturday in May.  You graced our lives with hope and love, and gave our family yet another glimpse into what living a life of service for Him can look like, as servants of the risen Christ!

Volunteer Team.

Property Update: Its Gone

Wednesday morning I received a voicemail from a woman named Caroline.  Caroline is a chaplain with the Billy Graham Association, working with Samaritan’s Purse in Bastrop for the next three weeks.  She was calling to let me know that they had a gift for our family and asked if I could stop by to pick it up.  In her voicemail she referred to our property as one having already been “cleared”, past tense.  I realized that Samaritan’s Purse must have been out hard at work on Tuesday clearing our concrete foundation.  Since I was going to be heading out to Bastrop today anyway to pick up our boys from Mema, I decided to head out to the property early and see how things looked.

When I got there here’s the sight that greeted me…

Its gone.

It was another one of those dramatic moments, seeing the property not just empty of the house, but now even absent of its very foundation.  Strange.  Since we weren’t the original owners of this house I had never seen the property without a structure or foundation on it.  It is starkly different to see a house I once lived in for nearly a decade cleared down to the very earth.

Samaritan’s Purse had certainly done an incredible job of clearing the foundation in short order.  It was definitely another blessing for us that they were able to come in at this point in time and do exactly what I needed done so quickly and with such servant-heartedness.

I stared at the debris pile out front.  It was pretty amazing to see that huge pile of concrete that resulted from the clearing of the entire foundation.   It was a small mountain in itself.

Concrete Mountain.

As I’d alluded to in a previous blog post its especially poignant to see this huge pile knowing that it is the last pieces of what was once our first “home”, and that soon they will be hauled away forever.  I’m reminded of a scene in the documentary I produced for Concordia University, “Crossing Jordan”, where alum David Goeke picks up a piece of tile from the floor of the oldest building on campus, Kilian Hall, its demolition imminent, and he reflects, “All the feet that have crossed these tiles…”  I could say that same thing as I stared at the remains of our concrete foundation.  All the feet of family and friends that had crossed that foundation over the past decade, and the stories they represented.  Tracy and I moved into this home shortly after getting married.  It was the first home we owned.  Both of our children spent their early years in this house.  Extended family would sometimes come to visit and get away from it all by spending a night or two in the peace of our Bastrop piney woodland home, no matter how small.  Holidays, birthdays, and other events were often celebrated on that foundation.  Good memories.

When Mema arrived with the boys I watched for Ben and Matthew’s reactions as they jumped out of the car.  I quickly realized that they would once again teach me a lesson in letting go.  They had no wistful reactions, no sad looks, no concern over the missing foundation.  Just the opposite.  They were excited.  They had a new huge sandbox to play in!  While I had looked at the missing foundation and seen a lost home, Ben and Matt looked and saw a new place to play.  While I wallowed in the past, they looked ahead to the future.  I smiled at my own short-sightedness as they plopped themselves down on the dirt where the house once stood and started playing.

A really big sandlot.

After Mema had left I sat down and let the boys play for awhile, watching them dig in the dirt and run across the acre.  It was good for them.  The truth of the matter was it was good for me too.

Then we loaded up in the truck.  We had one more stop to make before heading back to Austin.

I returned the call to Chaplain Caroline.  She told me the Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham Association headquarters was stationed at Timberline Church, just a little over a mile from our property.  She asked if we could come by so she could give us the gift personally.

As we drove up to the trailer in front of the church property, Caroline came out.  She greeted us and I introduced the boys.  I told her we had just been to the property and seen the great work that Samaritan’s Purse had done in clearing the foundation and how grateful we were for the blessing of their work.

Then she held up a Bible and opened it.  She said this was a gift from the Billy Graham Association to our family.  Inside the Bible on one of the opening pages was something special.  Each of the members of the Samaritan’s Purse team who had worked on our property had signed their names and written a special note or a Bible verse on the page.

A special gift.

Caroline asked if she could say a prayer with us and we gladly accepted.  It was a wonderful prayer of healing for our family.

As the boys and I headed back to Austin I called Tracy and told her the story.  I had texted her photos of the property shortly after I had got there.  She said it was hard to look at and left her speechless.

As I drove I was reminded of one of the Psalms which says, “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!”.

Eight months after the wildfires we remained a family in transition.  Some days are harder than others.  Yet our hope is always in the Lord.  As is our home.

Work Day – Volunteers Needed

WHEN:  Saturday, May 19, 2012  •  8 AM – 2 PM

WHERE:  Ristow family property in Bastrop (directions to be provided)

WHO:  All willing & able volunteers

WHAT:  Cutting & hauling dead pine trees, branches & debris

We’re hosting another work day and we could really use your help.  All willing and able volunteers are welcome to help us with clean-up at our property in Bastrop, which was destroyed in the 2011 wildfires, on Saturday, May 19, 2012, beginning at 8 am.

We have an estimated 100 pine trees, 30-35 cedar trees, and 1 lone oak tree still standing on our Bastrop property, all dead.  There are also about 20 “stubs” left of pine trees that were severed during the fire.  The goal is to begin cutting down and clearing as many of the dead trees as possible (with the exception of the oak tree, which will remain standing for now).   Obviously we’re not going to attempt all 100+ trees on that day.  But we would like to get the ground debris, pine tree “stubs”, small cedar trees and some of the pines that have the greatest threat of falling cut down and cleared, if possible, that day.

Some of the dead trees that need to come down can be seen in this recent photo of our property.

We need chainsaws, chainsaw operators, wheelbarrows or carts for hauling, and volunteers to haul the debris.  Once the trees have been felled and cut up into smaller manageable pieces we will need volunteers to help haul the debris – that is trunks, branches and the like – to the right of way at the rear of our property where it will be stacked in piles.

We have a few extra pairs of gloves but it is recommended that all volunteers bring gloves and work boots.  Shorts probably aren’t ideal since we’ll be working with sharp tree branches.  Depending upon the weather that day wearing hats or applying sunblock may be in order.  Lots of water, some snacks, and lunch will be provided by the Ristows.

One of my friends from college, and fellow Concordia alum – Erica – has already contacted me about gathering a group of adults and youth from her church who want to volunteer to help out.  She really helped me get the ball rolling on scheduling this latest work day.  Thank you Erica!

But I also wanted to open the work day up to anyone else wanting to come and help out as well.  I’ve had several friends ask about helping out again.  The more people we get the faster we get it all done.  Come on out and help if you can.

I’ve also been in touch with my next-door neighbor, Daniel, to see if he needed any help on his property that day as well.  He said “Yes!” and was grateful for the offer of additional assistance.  Daniel is much further along with the clearing on his property (he and his wife are planning on rebuilding) but does have some additional trees to cut down and other work that I know he would be grateful to have a helping hand with.  If we get enough people I may involve some of my other neighbors as well who may need similar assistance.

If you are interested in volunteering and can help us out on May 19, please contact me and let me know who and how many.  I’ll get you directions to our property.  You can email me at tim.ristow@me.com.

Thanks to each and every one of you for considering our request!  Thank you to all who have already helped us out in so ways over the past 7 months as well.  Each of you are a blessing to our family.  God Bless!

Lost & Found: Film at Eleven

Here is another selection of photos of items that we lost in the fire but found semi-intact afterward.  Rather than these being a study in futility, I find them kind of interesting views into how the fire re-shaped these items into their own unique form of art.  They are no longer functional tools but have become their own storied objects frozen in time, reminding me of some of the things that were transformed beneath the sea long after the Titanic went down.   I’m planning on taking more “artsy” photos of these objects later for a book I’m working on about our fire story.  But, for now, these will have to suffice.

Film at Eleven (one of many old family home movies that were lost).


Wedding Tiara (Tracy wore this at our wedding).


Sliding Mitre Square Tool (handed down from my Dad).

Fused coin collection remnants



Property Update: May 21 Deadline

Its official now.

Yep, it’s official.  Today as I drove out to the property to see if Samaritan’s Purse had started work on breaking up our foundation (they hadn’t) I saw this sign posted near the corner of FM 1441 and Pine Path.  Curtis (from Samaritan’s Purse) had told me Saturday that the date for the county ceasing pickup of debris (for free) would be May 21.  Today I had official confirmation of that.  Or, to be more precise, as the sign states, the deadline for placing all fire debris within the county right-of-way is May 21.  They may still pick up after that time but you have to have it to the R-O-W by then.

Property Update: Samaritan’s Purse

Curtis with Samaritan’s Purse.

It was a humid Saturday morning as my two boys and I headed out to our property in Bastrop to meet with Curtis from Samaritan’s Purse.  Curtis was a kindly older man, very soft-spoken, who clearly has a heart for helping others.  Curtis has worked with Samaritan’s Purse for many years and has served across the country and across the world.

Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian aid organization focused on helping people physically and spiritually.  It was founded by Billy Graham’s eldest son, Franklin, who serves as President of the organization.  They often provide help after storm disasters.   They usually don’t assist after fires but considering the need in our area they came in to help.  I found out about them through my wife Tracy and her friends via Facebook.

Curtis and I were meeting so that I could get signed up with them to have the concrete slab, or foundation, from my former home in Bastrop broken up and moved to the right-of-way for Bastrop county to haul off.  The latest word is that Bastrop will cease hauling away debris for free on May 21.  After that residents will be responsible (financially and otherwise) for having all of their debris removed from their property.  My discovery of Samaritan’s Purse couldn’t have occurred at a more convenient time and this was clearly another blessing in our ever-growing list of blessings.  I had just finished moving the last of the brick debris from the perimeter of my foundation to the right-of-way beside the road.  All that is left of house debris now is the foundation.

After filling out a very brief form with Curtis, I’m told its quite possible we could have them hard at work on our foundation as early as Monday.

A few leftover shards of pottery still visible on the foundation today.

Samaritan’s Purse will be in Bastrop for the next three weeks helping out fire victims with debris removal.  There is no charge for their services.  They are all volunteers, many of them having served all over the world.  They are looking for people to help in Bastrop.  If you or others you know affected by the Bastrop wildfires could benefit from their assistance please contact them.  For more information on this wonderful ministry visit their website below.


Lost & Found

Experience anew the gift of hope...

I’ve been meaning to start a semi-regular feature sharing about some of the items that we lost in the fire and then found having survived afterward.  Obviously “survived” is a relative term here.  Nothing really survived intact or undamaged.  The only exception is the blue ceramic cross.  Otherwise everything else we found was either singed, burned, charred, melted or corroded by the fire in some way, shape or form.  Still, its interesting to see what we did find and how they ended up looking after the fire.

I decided to start out with the very last items I found this past week while finishing up the brick clearing.  In all likelihood, now that the primary house debris cleanup is wrapped (that is the metal, ash and brick debris), these were the last significant items that will be found.

The first was a light bulb, melted and twisted a bit but still relatively intact.  Its interesting just to see how heat shaped the glass but yet it never broke, unlike nearly every other piece of glass in the house.  I’m not sure why as I’m not even sure what this bulb was from anymore.

Not far away from the bulb was a portion of a Christmas card that had once been stored in a box in our garage.  The only surviving part of it was the inside of the card with the words, “experience anew the gift of Hope sent that silent night so long ago”.

It seems fitting that the very first thing we found when we returned to the property was the blue “Blessed” cross, and the very last thing I found this week, seven months later, was this scrap of a card proclaiming that same message of Christ.  I continue to be humbled by His presence each and every day and these “lost and found” items are gentle reminders of that.

Property Update: A Story of Bricks

Note:  So I realize this is the third “weekly” property update this week so I’m just going to drop the “weekly” part of these updates and just title them either a Property Update or a Family Update.

On Thursday, April 19, 2012 the last of the bricks from what was once our home in Bastrop were cleared away from the foundation for hauling off.  I worked from 10:30 am until about 1:30 pm to finish shoveling up the bricks and hauling them by wheelbarrow to the front of my property where the county will eventually haul them away.

Shoveling the last of the bricks

The boys finished their homeschooling early and tagged along with me to the property, playing on a very different acre than it once was, and also helping me with shoveling the last wheelbarrow load full.  They were equally a big help by making sure Daddy took plenty of breaks during our 3 hours at the property and that we all drank lots of water.

Matthew lends a helping hand.

Ben and Matthew had the distinction of picking up the last two bricks off the ground and putting them in the last wheelbarrow load of brick debris.  Kind of a poignant moment.  Aftwards the boys asked if they could each take a brick of their own home.  I let them each take two.

The last two bricks.

The last two bricks are put on the wheelbarrow.

I hauled the last wheelbarrow load to the right-of-way, dumped it on the pile, and went back to look over the foundation, free of all bricks, after 7 months of (intermittent) clean-up work.


Ben was walking across the concrete slab near where the garage once stood.  He said, “Its hard to believe that we once fit a car and, like, a hundred boxes and all sorts of other stuff in this garage.”  We walked over to where the A/C unit closet once was, then my office, then the boy’s room.  The outlines of where walls once stood, still visible on the slab.  Ben made the same type of comment at each place.  “Everything looks so small now.”

I smiled.  Ben was growing up.  Matthew too.   Throughout the aftermath of the fire we were all learning new things, even now, about our perspectives on what had been, what is and even what will be in the future.  When the walls came down they truly changed a great many things:  Bastrop, the community, our neighborhood and our relationships as neighbors, the landscape and much more.  But perhaps nothing was as dramatic a change as the change taking place within each of us.


As I loaded up the boys and prepared to head back to our house in Austin I texted Tracy about the completed job.  She texted back right away.  “Wow!!! That’s quite an accomplishment.  You touched nearly every brick that was our house!”  I hadn’t thought of it that way before.  It was a lot of bricks.  Now, I could have had a tractor come in and make quick work of those bricks in an hour or so.  But, as I told my neighbor Daniel, it was just something I had to do.  I couldn’t really explain it.  I just had to clear those bricks away myself, even though I knew it would take awhile to complete.  Of course I’d had help from others early on, including the hard work of many from the Matthijetz family, the Hard family, and Gary Rash and Jordan Boesseling from our church.  They had truly been a part of starting the brick clearing process, helping to clear off the bricks from the front sidewalk late last year.  From then until now had been a lot of hard work.

But now as I drove away from the property, staring at all the bricks piled out front, I felt a feeling of accomplishment and relief…and also a little pride – pride in two young boys who were growing up before my eyes and learning to live with change in ways I never would have imagined for them.  And only by the grace of God.

The final brick pile.

Weekly Property Update

A view toward the easement today.

One thing I failed to mention in Monday’s update was that there are several homes on our street that are either being framed up or have their exterior shell completed.  Most of them I’ve watched going up over  previous weeks.  Monday, however, was the first time I noticed activity behind us.  The above photo is a view toward the easement from the back of our property.  Its very close to the perspective I had the day of the fire.  If you look closely at the center of the picture you can see the wood frame of a new house going up.  They are clearly rebuilding.  Its kind of interesting to compare the view I had seven months ago with the view of today, and to see people slowly rebuilding, slowly working their way back.  As time marches on and more and more trees are brought down (or simply fall down) and houses go up, the visibility of seeing each of the homes in the neighborhood will increase.  Its a dramatic change that will have a big impact on the neighborhood as it grows away from what it was and into what it will be.   Theres something kind of beautiful about that, even though its hard to put into words right now.

Perhaps the last photo for today says it best:  butterflies on a purple flower.  There are signs of new life everywhere; from the green weeds and grass, to the footprints of deer in the mud; from the birds flitting through the remains of the trees, to the sounds of the toads croaking at night (Daniel, my neighbor, has heard them on damp nights); from the earthworms in the mud underneath the bricks as I clear them away, to the sight of a squirrel searching through the new undergrowth for any signs of food.  Daniel also told me about a wolf or coyote that has come up to our road one evening, probably in search of water or food.  The sights and sounds of nature are coming back, slowly and surely.  All in concert with God’s marvelous design.  From out of a disaster continues to grow new life.

The stubs of some of the burned tree trunks still dot the landscape on our property. Soon, they will start to come down, some 7 months after the fire.

New life abounds.

Weekly Property Update


The gift of a star.

As I drove up to our property today I was greeted by a brightly painted wood star, sticking out of the ground on a green painted stick.  It warmed my heart to see these in front of every property as I drove through the neighborhood.  On the back of each star is the first name and initial to the last name of the student who painted the star.  Apparently this was part of some school effort to reach out to fire victims in Bastrop.  I’ll have to get the full story and update later but its very cool.  Ours was made by “John W.”  Whoever you are you made me smile today when I saw your precious creation.  As the rest of the Ristow family comes out to see it, I know they will too.

God Bless you, John W!

Today was another day of clearing bricks from around the perimeter of the foundation.  But the end is quickly drawing near.  I was able to clear nearly half of the south side of the foundation, the last of the sides to be clear end, in about an hour today.  I was grateful for the cloud cover hanging with me all afternoon.  It sure beats a blazing sun overhead while hauling brick.  The remaining bricks will probably take another  1.5 to 2 hours to clear, which I plan to finish up later this week.   It feels good to be reaching the end of this part of the clean-up.  After I’ve finished with the last of the bricks I’ll call the county again to pick up this last pile.  In a way it is a bit sad to reach this point, too.  The last of the brick means the last of the debris that was our home will be gone.

Getting near the end of brick clearing.

Of course there’s still the foundation.  Recently there’s been some exciting news involving movement toward a cleanup effort for that concrete slab that I hope to share here within the next week or so.  More on that soon.

Before leaving for the day I snapped a few more stills around the property for my weekly update.  I’ve posted several of them here.  Some of these are a study in contrasts, such as a really bright sunflower, and some really dark trees stubs.  Although you may not be able to see it real well from the picture, some of the tree stubs are shedding their burned bark.  Thats not because they’re dead.  Its because the Pine Beetles are back and they’re busy boring away at the interior pine tree wood.  Even a fire couldn’t stop the Pine Beetles for long.